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Trumka on Social Security: Don’t Raise Retirement Age

National Journal, 11/11/10

By Kathy Kiely
National Journal
November 11, 2010

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka says working Americans' retirement fund is being tapped to pay for a Wall Street party.
Among the many skeptics President Obama will have to win over to enact recommendations outlined by leaders of his bipartisan deficit reduction commission: one of the Democratic Party’s key allies, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka.

Trumka was visiting National Journal as commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson were unveiling their ideas Wednesday. Reading a bulletin about the recommendation to reduce automatic cost-of-living hikes in Social Security benefits, Trumka said he wanted to hear more about the plan, but added: “It doesn’t sound like a good policy to me.”

Earlier in the conversation, Trumka delivered an impassioned and deeply personal critique of another idea included in the Bowles-Simpson package: raising the age at which Americans can begin to draw their Social Security benefits.

“My dad worked 44 years in a coal mine. Retired the day he turned 62 because he couldn’t go another day,” Trumka said. “If you had told him you have to go to 68, my dad would have died. It would have killed him. There are millions of people like that. When we work in an air-conditioned office, it’s a whole lot different than people who work on a construction site, in a hospital, teaching in an inner city school, in a coal mine, in a steel mill.”

Bowles, a Democrat who served as White House chief of staff under President Clinton, and Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, propose raising the age at which Americans can begin drawing benefits from 62 to 64. They include a hardship exemption for those unable to work past age 62.

It remains to be seen whether that will satisfy the AFL-CIO, whose president is generally dubious about the idea of the need for making Social Security part of an overall deficit reduction plan.

“It has nothing to do with the deficit problem,” said Trumka, arguing that the trust fund will be solvent for at least another 30 years. “Yet they continue to throw it in to confuse people.” While labor is willing to make some changes to guarantee Social Security’s long-term future, “what we’re not in favor of is increasing the age and cutting the benefits,” Trumka said.

One reason working class voters were so angry in this year’s election, Trumka added, is they feel their retirement is being tapped to pay for excesses they didn’t get to enjoy.

“Wall Street had this giant party for a number of years and we didn’t get invited,” Trumka said. “And then the party came to an end and somebody had to pay for it. And where’s the first place they go to ask people to pay: Social Security. So you retire later and you get less.”

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