Opinion: FDR, Georgia and Social Security: A Relationship Worth Protecting

The name Franklin D. Roosevelt and the town of Warm Springs, Georgia, are forever linked in history. He spent so much time there between 1924 and 1945 that it became known as the “Little White House.”

Today, FDR’s crowning achievement, Social Security, is endangered by Herschel Walker and his mentor, Senator Rick Scott of Florida. We, the descendants of FDR, his Vice President Henry Wallace, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, and Commerce Secretary Harry Hopkins, feel impelled to come to its defense, and to call upon the voters of Georgia to wield their vast power to do the same in the crucial upcoming Senate runoff election.

In 1921, at the age of 39, FDR was stricken with polio – a virus that can infect a person’s spinal cord and lead to paralysis and even death. Warm Springs was where he came for treatment, and inspiration.

FDR appointed a cabinet-level Committee on Economic Security, chaired by Perkins and including Wallace (then Secretary of Agriculture) and Hopkins as federal relief administrator, and tasked them with devising a comprehensive and permanent program of social insurance for American workers, their families, and the disabled.

FDR regarded the Social Security Act of 1935 as the “cornerstone” of his entire administration. Today it serves nearly two million Georgians. A quarter million are disabled and receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which can also go to a spouse or child living with a disability.

From the beginning, conservatives decried Social Security as “socialism.” FDR’s 1936 opponent Alf Landon called it a “hoax” and a “fraud.” He lost in a landslide.

FDR had insisted that it be an insurance benefit that workers earn by paying into it, through the “FICA” payroll tax deducted from every paycheck – 6.2 percent of earnings, matched by 6.2 percent from their employer.

He saw the payroll tax as pivotal, giving workers “a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

Republican President Dwight Eisenhower felt the same. There may be “a tiny splinter group” of politicians who want to mess with Social Security, he wrote, but “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Well, stupid is on the upcoming runoff ballot in Georgia. Leading Republicans have proposed radical plans to end the guarantee of Social Security and Medicare. Florida US Senator Rick Scott, who leads Republican efforts to elect Walker, has proposed to sunset both programs after five years, in a sweeping plan railing against “socialism” and extolling privatization.

Under Scott’s scheme, Social Security, Medicare, and the payroll tax would continue only if Congress could agree on how to renew them. Congress would have complete discretion to cut them, privatize them, turn them into unearned welfare, or let them “go bankrupt.”

The head of the Republican National Committee has given Senator Scott’s plan her official endorsement, praising it for being “full of actual solutions.” Senator Scott has begged Georgians to vote for Walker.

FDR, Wallace, Perkins, and Hopkins would be the true conservatives in the room – fighting to conserve these earned benefits that are the rightful property of people who have paid into them their entire working lives – the most popular federal programs ever. To them, the challenge would not be how to dismantle, but how to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.

One simple solution comes from the little-known fact that the richer you are, the less payroll tax you pay. Earned income above $147,000 per year is just not taxed. Get rid of this ridiculous billionaire-coddling cap. Make the CEO pay the same 6.2 percent as the janitor. Use the added revenues to improve benefits and services, and strengthen long-term solvency.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for Herschel Walker to support raising taxes on rich people. According to Forbes, he makes $7 million per year, lives in a $12 million mansion and owns three luxury yachts. It’s no big mystery why he has Donald Trump’s “complete and total endorsement,” given that the ex-President is famous for his tax cuts for the rich and his scheme to terminate the payroll tax.

We’ve recently celebrated the 87th birthday of FDR signing Social Security into law. It touches the life of every working Georgian from Warm Springs to Savannah, and has saved millions from the “poorhouse.” For generations, it has stood as proof that government can and must be a force for good in the lives of ordinary folks.

A win by Walker would put the Senate – and Social Security’s future – on a 50-50 knife’s edge. Retaining the principled and caring Senator Raphael Warnock would send a message that the people of Georgia won’t abide stupid plans to mess with their rights.

James Roosevelt, Jr. is an attorney and former associate commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Henry Scott Wallace is an attorney and foundation executive. Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall is the founder of the Frances Perkins Center. June Hopkins is a professor of History Emerita, Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Campus.

Note: This is an opinion article as designated by the the category placement on this website. It is not news coverage. If this disclaimer is funny to you, it isn’t aimed at you — but some of your friends and neighbors honestly have trouble telling the difference.

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