It has been said that the best measure of a society is the way it treats its most vulnerable members. In America, many of our most vulnerable citizens are seniors who face the challenge of avoiding poverty and debasement in their retirement years.
Three generations ago, our fellow New Yorker, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made a sacred pact with the American people to stand with them in their fight for a dignified old age. We must do the same.
Roosevelt made a promise that all Americans who worked hard and paid their taxes would retire with a decent, secure pension. The program he created assured that no senior citizen would be left homeless, hungry or without income.
Since 1935, Social Security has provided a safety net for millions of retirees. Social Security showed what FDR's America valued: charity, compassion and an unwavering commitment to the common good.
Today, a new president has a different idea of what America values. President Bush's proposal to "save" Social Security would sell out working Americans, undermine the legacy of Roosevelt and break the bond of trust forged between the government and its citizens more than three generations ago.
Bush has not been honest with the American people and provides no specifics in his proposal. In his unsuccessful 1978 campaign for Congress, Bush claimed that Social Security would be broke in 10 years if it wasn't privatized. Today, he claims Social Security is facing collapse if immediate action is not taken. He was wrong then, and he is wrong now.
Creating individual retirement accounts will drain trillions of dollars from Social Security over the next 20 years, cut guaranteed benefits to future retirees by more than 40 percent and greatly increase the national debt by forcing the United States to borrow $5 trillion from foreign countries. Women and minorities would be hardest hit, as they tend to earn lower salaries and are less likely to have a 401(k) plan, pensions or other sources of private income for retirement.
The president promises that private accounts will provide people with more money than Social Security checks will, ignoring the fact that millions of Americans lose money in the stock and bond markets every year. He tries to turn America's youth against the elderly by claiming they are paying for others while receiving nothing in return.
Bush is threatening a return to the instability of 19th century America, when giant corporations enjoyed little regulation, the divide between rich and poor was extreme and the economy was unstable.
Congress must protect the integrity of the Social Security program and ensure that the retirement security of America's citizens is not entrusted to Wall Street investment firms. Any acceptable plan must preserve what has always been the essence of Social Security: the peace of mind that comes from the guarantee that no working American will ever fall through the cracks.