In light of the recent big news stories, it was easy to miss the struggle over the need to protect Social Security from blows coming from the Republicans and the federal Fiscal Commission. This developing fight won a victory recently in President Obama’s State of the Union address.

The following is what leaders of the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), and others saw as the key language on Social Security from the State of the Union address;

“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future retirees, and without subjecting American’s guaranteed income to the whims of the stock market.”

This is a solid statement, one that won praise from activists fighting to defend Social Security. With that language, Obama took a position in opposition to the findings of the Fiscal Commission that he had appointed. The statement, further, is in opposition to the divisive push by corporate forces working to split young folks from retirees, central to their drive to destroy Social Security.

Retiree leaders were told, right up until game time, that Obama may include language supporting the Fiscal Commission. However, it was the independent role of retirees and activists that organized a grassroots campaign leading up the State of the Union that built the ground beneath Obama, giving him room to fully support this essential program.

There has been a growing crescendo of calls to “cut the deficient” directed at Social Security, as well as other programs aiding working folks. Obama, in a move that many saw as a dangerous concession to right-wing forces, set up the Fiscal Commission. Its marching orders, under appointed Chair, the former right wing Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, was to develop a “bipartisan approach toward cutting spending.” Almost immediately that body became a center of attacks on all progressive legislative gains, including Social Security, an ideological base for the ultra right heading into the elections.

Even though Social Security is funded by working people and has nothing to do with the nation’s deficient, it immediately became the focus of the commission. Conservatives & Republicans had never supported Social Security, even though this program has been the most successful program in our nation’s history.

Simpson stated that, Social Security was a “giant cow with 32 million tits!” He went on, stating that he was “tired of people on Social Security sitting around in their gated communities, waiting to get in their Lexus’ to drive to the local Perkins to get their senior discount!”

Worse than his arrogance, was the program that Simpson and that commission put forward to attack Social Security. They called for;

* raising the age of Social Security eligibility from the present 62, up to 70.

* cutting benefits for future Social Security recipients.

* Introducing “means testing” for Social Security eligibility.

This proposal was greeted with alarm by retirees and others across the nation. Raising the eligibility age to 70 would be a death sentence for workers working in hard, difficult physical jobs. The introduction of “means testing” for Social Security would make that program more of a “welfare program” for only the poorest Americans, instead of the income base that it was enacted to be. This makes it an easier target for cuts, as a “welfare program!” The commission stated that Social Security recipient’s benefits wouldn’t be cut, only future retirees, trying to split youth from present retirees.

“Social Security has been our nation’s most successful program,” stated Norm Wernet (Ohio Director, Alliance for Retired Americans). “Before Social Security approximately 80% of our nation’s retirees were living in poverty. After Social Security was passed the exact opposite became true; 80% of our nation’s retirees live with a livable income in their retirement years.”

The anger at those extremist proposals made it impossible for the Commission to get the votes needed for findings to be officially sent to the Congress. However, the commission did get a majority vote in support of their proposals. It was in this poisonous atmosphere that the American people went to the polls in November.

The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) and coalitions across the nation, launched a fight against the attack on Social Security. Many thousands signed the petition demanding that Social Security not be strengthened, not cut. Mass meetings were organized. Delegations demanded their representatives NOT support the Fiscal Commission proposals. ARA leaders from every state co-signed a strongly worded letter to President Obama, urging him to oppose the commission proposals. Right up to the State of the Union, discussions continued in D.C.

A study titled “Social Security and the Future of the Democratic Party,” was sent to activists. It was shown at union halls, churches, and retiree centers and was given to Democratic elected officials. The study, backed up by polls and research, showed that when Democrats backed Social Security, their support goes up strongly. It also showed that when they are associated with attacks on Social Security, their support plummets! The frightening conclusion cited recent published polls showing Democrats are now below Republicans in response to the question “Which party is best at protecting Social Security.”

When President Obama delivered the address, his language on Social Security elicited praise from retirees and allies

There has been an ongoing debate on what relationship the people’s movement should have to the president, Democrats. Some have taken a “plague on both your houses” approach, stating that there is no discernable difference between D’s, R’s, while others have done just the opposite, just supporting administration did, without organizing a independent fight to push the people’s agenda.

The Obama administration has corporate influences within its own ranks & is facing heavily financed pressure from the ultra right. Without pressure from an organized people’s movement, the only push has been from the corporate side.

What is seen as the positive approach of the ARA-led movement is that they did not, even faced with real anger, break with Obama. However, they were not going to sit on the sidelines, hoping good things happened. What they did is mobilize & fight! This organized fight let all know that they attack Social Security at their own political peril. As a result, a victory was won! As result of this grassroots fight, retiree coalitions are stronger. With this positive statement, support for Obama has also significantly improved.