Why I Delivered 1500 Baby Bottle Tops to Alan Simpson

After Alan Simpson, the co-chair of President Obama’s deficit commission, insulted those who depend on Social Security — many of them older women, children and people with disabilities — by referring to the program as “a milk cow with 310 million tits,” the National Organization for Women came up with its “Tits for an Ass” campaign. We put out a call to supporters, and they responded enthusiastically with donations to help buy baby bottle nipples in bulk to give to Simpson.

We needed to send him this message in person, and we wanted to make it memorable. As you can see from this video, my encounter with Simpson was certainly something you don’t see every day in button-down DC.

Here’s how Dana Milbank described the scene in the Washington Post:

“Simpson, the one-time Republican senator and now a co-chairman of the commission, got in some trouble this summer when, in an e-mail about Social Security to an official from the Older Women’s League, used an old H.L. Mencken line to describe the government as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.

NOW President Terry O’Neill had planned to present the nipples to Simpson outside the Senate hearing room where the commission was holding a public meeting this morning, but when Simpson slipped in a back door, O’Neill marched into the committee room and up to the dais to hand over the T&A package.”

It’s true — I never met a closed door I didn’t want to march through. And for good reason!

We just can’t have someone with obvious animosity toward women and seniors making important decisions on Social Security. This commission is supposed to be developing ways to reduce the national debt, which, by the way, has nothing to do with Social Security. The canard that the Social Security trust fund is going broke is always brought out by the same crowd who want to cut taxes for the rich.

Michael Hiltzik wrote in the Los Angeles Times, about
“the convoluted subject of the trust fund, which for some two decades has been the prime target of the crowd trying to bamboozle Americans into thinking Social Security is insolvent, bankrupt, broke — pick any term you wish, because they’re all wrong. The trust fund is the mechanism by which baby boomers have pre-funded their own (OK, our own) retirements. When tax receipts fall short, its bonds are redeemed by “the government to cover the gap…

Since 1983, the money from all payroll taxpayers has been building up the Social Security surplus, swelling the trust fund. What’s happened to the money? It’s been borrowed by the federal government and spent on federal programs — housing, stimulus, war and a big income tax cut for the richest Americans, enacted under President George W. Bush in 2001.

In other words, money from the taxpayers at the lower end of the income scale has been spent to help out those at the higher end. That transfer — that loan, to characterize it accurately — is represented by the Treasury bonds held by the trust fund…

So all the whining you hear about how redeeming the trust fund will require a tax hike we can’t afford is simply the sound of wealthy taxpayers trying to skip out on a bill about to come due. The next time someone tells you the trust fund is full of worthless IOUs, try to guess what tax bracket he’s in.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world where not everyone is a millionaire who regards Social Security recipients as, in Alan Simpson’s words, “lesser people,” millions of Americans are teetering on the edge of poverty.

Women make up the largest group of elderly who live in poverty, and a cut in Social Security or raising the retirement age will only make things worse. Throughout their lives, women on average are paid less then men; in addition, they often work at part-time jobs or take extended leave from the workforce to raise children. As a result, women are less likely to have pensions, investments or life savings, making them extremely vulnerable in retirement.

Alan Simpson got so rattled when I pressed him on the appalling consequences of cutting Social Security benefits that he blurted out “Merry Christmas” and tried to walk away. Why were visions of sugarplums dancing in Alan Simpson’s head? Because he thinks Social Security is a gift, a little something extra to put in your stocking.

In the same conversation where Simpson called recipients “lesser people,” he shared a little revisionist history about the original intent of Social Security.

“They never dreamed that the life expectancy [would go] from 57 years of age to 78 or 75 or whatever. Who would dream that? No one. They just died. People worked. Social Security was never a retirement. It was setup to take care of poor guys in the Depression who lost their butts, who were digging ditches, and it was to give them 43% of their wages… when they got out… and that’s what it was. It was never a retirement. It was an income supplement.”

And this is the man President Obama put in charge of deficit reduction? Mr. Simpson should know that the middle class is in a precarious position in this country, with millions in danger of falling into poverty. Asking women — heck, asking anyone! — to accept a cut in their Social Security benefits or to continue working into their 70s is no way to reduce the national debt, and it certainly is not the answer to strengthening the system.

Since it is clear that Mr. Simpson does not intend to step down from the Fiscal Commission, NOW will continue to urge President Obama to remove the Social Security foe from his influential position. And we will continue to educate women’s rights and economic justice supporters about the threats to Social Security and what is at stake Social Security is a cut to the middle class.

And if that means getting in the face of some patrician, pompous lawmakers, well, try and stop me!

Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on October 1, 2010

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