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Saving Social Security: Is Issue Getting Enough Attention in Katko-Deacon Congressional Race?

Lots of national and international issues are competing for time and attention this election campaign season for presidential candidates as well as our Syracuse-area congressional hopefuls.  Concerns about terrorism, international trade and immigration grab headlines…but few issues affect as many people as social security.  

A predicted crisis for Social Security is not going away…but is struggling to get onto the agenda.

(The group Social Security Works tracks the issue state-by-state: Click here)

So…you might remember the 2000 national election, and might also remember social security was perhaps the top issue.  Concerns over data that showed the trust fund was going to go into the red in about 

This Story Starts a Series on Major Issues in the 24th Dist. Congressional Race

2033 drew much attention and rhetoric form candidates.  Well that was before 9/11 and terrorism, two recessions and myriad other national issues that edge it out.  Nothing’s changed about social security’s problems…and now A-A-R-P and others are trying to get it back on the agenda for New York congressional candidates - and elsewhere. 

That 25% cut in benefits, referred to in the PSA campaign, is still slated for around 2033, if nothing is done.  AARP Associate State Director Randy Hoak has looked into the impacts.

“AARP has analyzed what folks are spending their money on now.  25% is going to face them with some very difficult choices.  What are they going to purchase; what are they not going to purchase?  And we’re not talking about luxury items.  We’re talking about utilities; we’re talking about heat; we’re talking about groceries.”

They’re lobbying candidates on the congressional – and presidential level – to get moving on this…knowing that other issues have taken priority.  Here in Syracuse’s 24th congressional district incumbent John Katko and challenger Colleen Deacon agree.  

Democrat Colleen Deacon does not list Social Security as one of her campaign issues on her website.

Deacon has two parents on social security…and if elected is ready to have a broad conversation about keeping it solvent.

“I mean we have to look at funding formulas.  We have to look at unearned income and we have to look at potentially raising the cap to make sure everybody’s paying their fair share.  I will tell you that I will not privatize Social Security.  I will not dismantle the promise made to myself, my family, my son’s family moving forward.”

She warns against putting the trust fund in the hands of wall street. 

Katko also sees a broad debate ahead.  He is specifically against any notions of further raising retirement age.     

John Katko has a website section devoted to protecting medicare and social security.

“That ignores the fact that when you’re in the trades, you’re body’s pretty beat up by the time your 60 or 65 years old.  So I’m not sure that’s the best idea.  But I know there is ways to do it through other revenue streams.  We got to sit down and figure out what those revenue streams are and make sure it’s properly funded.” 

Deacon also rejects raising retirement age.  Neither supports any specific solutions – such as applying the levy to a greater share of income.  Now people pay only on the first 118-thousand dollars they make.  But they would leave such ideas on the table.  AARP’s Hoak says it’s O-K for candidates not to have specific proposals – he imagines gridlock if there were 535 separate house and senate plans competing.  But the group is demanding some leadership and action, on teh presidential and congressional level…as seen in the PSA below.


“So we’re looking for commitment from candidates for congress that they are going to do something about this and to elevate the conversation.  Make this an issue that they’re going to discuss on social media, an issue that’s going to be featured prominently on their campaign websites in the debate, discussion and discourse of the campaign, that Social Security will be one of those top issues.” 

With so much media attention on the presidential race and issues there, less headline-grabbing topics fade…even if they would affect more people.  Katko admits it’s not what people talk about --- until.

“Only when people start demagogue-ing [sic] the issue and scaring older people.  You know they get this mailer and it says so-and-so is going to cut your Social Security and you’re going to be big trouble.  Well, that’s not productive.  But I just think it’s something I try to raise on my own.  If we’re going to be responsible legislators, we should be responsible now, not 15 years from now on the Social Security issue.”

In her campaigning, Deacon claims to hear a bit more about it.

“We hear form a number of people in this district that care about social security, that might be on Social Security right now, and they’re worried that it’s going to be taken away from them.  We talk to other people who are near retirement years so they’ve been paying into it for a long time and want to make sure it’s going to be there when they retire as well.  So yeah, we absolutely hear a lot about making sure the trust fund is solvent for them and for their children as well.”

John Katko shares thoughts on the right way to save the future of Social Security with WAER News Director Chris Bolt.

It’s hard to tell voters what to care most about…not that candidates and interest groups don’t try.  The worry of AARP and others, of course, is amid terrorist bombs and police shootings, unsolved immigration reforms and gun control, social security as a critical campaign issue gets lost.  Candidates such as John Katko, Colleen Deacon and Mimi Satter – who are all vying for New York’s 24th congressional seat -- know solvency problems are looming…now will they shoe-horn the issue onto the agenda?

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.