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FDR’s Grandson: At 70-Years-Old, Social Security Will Be "Successful Right Through The 21st Century"

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This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The program remains the most successful social program of the century. We speak with FDR’s grandson. [includes rush transcript]

This Sunday, marks the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Act into law on August 14th, 1935. Social Security was the centerpiece of his New Deal Program and included benefits for the elderly, the retired and the unemployed.

  • President Roosevelt, speaking at the signing of the Social Security Act in 1935.

President Bush has made overhauling Social Security a centerpiece of his second-term domestic agenda. Bush has advocated privatizing portions of the program claiming it is the only way to save the system from bankruptcy. But he has encountered fierce resistance from both Democrats and Republicans and his proposal for instituting personal accounts died in the House last session. However, earlier this week Bush met with economic advisors to strategize ways of pushing through his plan for privitization when Congress returns in the fall. But Americans remain skeptical of Bush’s efforts. The latest poll conducted by the American Association of Retired People found that eighty-six percent of non-retired Americans think social security should continue as a government program.

  • James Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of F.D.R and president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Here’s President Roosevelt speaking at the signing of the Act.

PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Today a hope of many years standing is in large part fulfilled. The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes has tempted more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what’ll be their lot when they came to old age. A man with a job has wondered how long the job would last. This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to 50 millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment compensation, through old age pensions, and through increased services for the protection of children, and the prevention of ill health. We can never insure 100% of the population against 100% of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty stricken old age. It seems to me that if the Senate and the House of Representatives in this long and arduous session have done nothing more than pass this security bill, Social Security Act, the session would be regarded as historic for all time.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Roosevelt at the signing of the Social Security Act in 1935. Special thanks to our partners at archive.org for preserving this public history. Well, today President Bush has made overhauling Social Security a centerpiece of his second term domestic agenda. Bush has advocated privatizing portions of the program, claiming it’s the only way to save the system from bankruptcy. But he’s encountered fierce resistance from both Democrats and Republicans, and his proposal for instituting personal accounts died in the House last session. However, earlier this week, Bush met with economic advisors to strategize ways of pushing through his plan for privatization when Congress returns in the fall. The latest poll conducted by the American Association of Retired People found 86% of non-retired Americans think Social Security should continue as a government program. We’re joined in our D.C. studio now by James Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of F.D.R., and President and CEO of Tufts Health Plan. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR.: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on the 70th anniversary of the signing of Social Security into law.

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR.: Well, Amy, this 70th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act this Sunday is a real celebration because Social Security has been so successful in accomplishing its goals and it continues to be. And the projections of all economists, including President Bush’s own economists indicate that it has every prospect of continuing to be successful right through the 21st century.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your sense of President Bush’s attempts now to, quote, "save Social Security by the privatization of a portion of it?"

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR.: Well, the White House and President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress have admitted that the President’s proposal does nothing, not one cent, to extend the solvency of Social Security. You know, if no changes were made in Social Security, the current projections by the White House and the Social Security Administration show that it would be fully solvent through 2041 and then only a 25% cut in benefits would be required to keep it solvent through the rest of the 21st century. So President Bush’s proposal is not really an overhaul, it’s really a destruction of Social Security. It would take this program, which has moved America’s senior citizens from 1950, when 48% of retired Americans lived below the poverty line, to where we are today where only about 8% are below the poverty line. And that’s because nearly 2/3 of retired Americans get the majority of their income from Social Security, and 1/3 of retired Americans get all of their — virtually all of their income from Social Security. This program has worked. It has been tweaked every 15 or 20 years, it could stand to be tweaked sometime in the next few years to extend its solvency, but not destroyed the way President Bush wants to do.

AMY GOODMAN: James Roosevelt, can you talk about what you understand took place at that time, the New Deal, your grandfather’s feelings at that time, as his grandson? You weren’t alive then.

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR.: I was not. I got to know my grandmother, Eleanor, growing up, but she lived 'til I was a senior in high school, but I didn't know my grandfather. But through her, I do know that that was the Great Depression. Because of my grandfather’s polio, a lot of the observations around the country were done by my grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt. She would come back and tell him about the tremendous poverty that she saw, partly among active working people, and that’s why the Social Security Act included unemployment compensation. People forget we didn’t have that transitional assistance for people before Social Security, but partly because the poorest people in that time of great poverty were the elderly and the young. So Social Security provided for a basic secure retirement income, and it then provided and still provides today very important benefits for children of parents who are either deceased prematurely or become disabled prematurely. A large percentage of Social Security benefits go to survivors and children. 10 million Social Security recipients are below the age of 65. So they looked at those serious national problems and came up with a program with a dedicated income stream from the payroll tax that isn’t in competition with other worthy needs from defense to education, but instead says this is what you can count on. And that’s what Social Security is about, rather than being speculation in the stock market.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your sense of the ability of the Republican leadership in Congress and the President to emasculate or destroy this final bulwark of the New Deal that your grandfather represented?

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR.: Well, it certainly is clear that the American people do not support the privatization that would destroy Social Security. And as you indicated in the introduction here, even Republicans have joined with Democrats in the House and Senate to oppose the President’s privatization proposal. However, it seems that when President Bush and Vice President Cheney get a bad idea, they just stick to it, and they use words like "crisis" and "bankruptcy" and "flat broke" when they just aren’t true at all. So that kind of psychological warfare on the basic economics of the average American is something that you can’t just ignore. We, all Americans, I think have to continue to talk to our Senators and our Representatives about how deeply we feel about this program, which — really it’s America’s family program, because it means that working younger people don’t have to be concerned that their parents and their grandparents will need their income out of their weekly paycheck in order to eat and have shelter. And it means that they can count — working Americans can count on a basis of a solid, secure retirement when they get to be to retirement age or if they should become prematurely disabled.

AMY GOODMAN: James Roosevelt, Jr., I want to thank you very much for being with us, the grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on this 70th anniversary of the signing of Social Security into law.

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