Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lobbyist Barbara Kennelly's form letter on social security

On January 17, 2007 I received at by business mailbox an 11 in x 12 in envelope from Lansdale, PA, from Barbara Kennelly, CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Ms Kennelly (not Kennedy!) had served in the U.S. Congress for seventeen years as a ranking member of the Social Security Committee and of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The package did contain a six page letter explaining the accomplishments of the committee. They are discussed in a separate blog entry.

The package also contained a blue form letter, very professionally printed, to be mailed to Representative James P. Moran, D, 8th District, Virginia. Part of the letter reads

“As you know, President Roosevelt and Congress created Social Security in 1935 to protect retired Americans from experiencing … ‘poverty-ridden old age.’ … Social Security and Medicare represent a covenant between the government and its citizens. I therefore stand against plans to privatize either of these programs in any way that will harm of diminish these critically important protections against poverty and the devastating coast of medical care.”

I don’t dispute the validity of this argument, although personally I agree with plans to give individuals more control of their retirement assets, including eventually social security. What concerns me is the message of lobbying and contacting legislators this way. It says “I need more of the pie. I am getting stepped on. I am a victim….” This way of contacting legislators, with slick form letters prepared on K-Street assumes that average constituents have no ability or responsibility to think through issues for themselves in any reasonably objective fashion.

Of course, the reality is that most of corporate America is adversarial in nature and that people get paid to behave in a one-sided manner in public all the time. In fact, many people depend on organizations and unions to represent them in a collective manner, and collective bargaining is a longstanding legally recognized right, connected to expressive association in the First Amendment. Still, high school and college education in social studies is supposed to teach students to think critically and see issues from objective overview (although the battles over curricula in some sensitive areas

The controversy of blogging and social networking profiles ultimately ties into this problem. Some people, by their public job responsibilities, may be precluded from expressing themselves in a public space and have only collective expressive association to represent their needs. Nevertheless, individually written letters to representatives are much more appropriate than mailings like the one I received. Most Representatives and Senators have efficient ways to contact them through email; Jim Moran’s site has a panel for sending letters through the Internet. Also, most have staff that is reasonably responsive to individual phone calls; at least my own representatives in the Senate and House here in Virginia do.


Anonymous said...

I also received this package. I have been really hurt by Social Security legislation in the 1980's when they eliminated people who worked for the Federal Government (and paid their own pension) and also worked for 20+ years paying Social Security. I would not have mind if I was told in the 1950's when I started to work but to wait just 15 years before I retired, it hurt a lot. I changed to Fers so I could get 50% of my Social Security benefits. I got $800 and my friends and neighbors who never worked gets $700 from their husbands working. So I worked for 23 years and paid the maximum amount each year and get $100 more than someone who never paid in at all. If I did not change to FERS (which cut my own Federal Penison a lot) I would not be able to get any Social Security Benefits nor my husbands.
I hired a care giver for my mother and all her sisters and father are on social security and are not citizens of the U.S. nor do they want to. They worked only a short time and are receiving more than I do with 23 years paying the maximum amount.

So I am very upset about any Social Security issue.

Bill Boushka said...

I've posted a reply on my "Retirement Blog" on Monday Sept 10, 2007, giving a brief reference on what FERS is.