Denver Questions about the future of Social Security and Medicare dominated the discussion Monday at the 2008 Democratic National Convention Senior Caucus.
Nearly 200 people gathered at the Colorado Convention Center to participate in the Senior Caucus, one of 11 sessions that will occur through Thursday at the convention center.
Richard Trumka, president of the United Mine Workers Union from 1982-95; Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandson, James Roosevelt; former Connecticut U.S. Rep. Barbara Kennelly; and Illinois U.S. Rep. Janice "Jan" Schakowsky all took the podium to praise Sen. Barack Obama and criticize Sen. John McCain.
Almost immediately the discussion turned to privatization and assurances that McCain wants to continue with the Bush administration's defunct attempt to reform Social Security.
"The war is not over," Kennelly said of the privatization debate.
Kennelly said the rising cost of prescriptions for seniors under the current Medicare structure has made life harder for senior citizens who have to choose what to give up in order to purchase their medications. These kinds of issues are a direct result of the gradual privatization of Medicare, according to Kennelly.
Schakowsky warned that Social Security recipients would face a similar fate as those who rely on Medicare if McCain wins in November.
"McCain is for privatization and Barack Obama will save Social Security. A retiree voting for McCain in 2008 is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders. If McCain gets elected, you'll get plucked," Trumka said.
Roosevelt, who worked for the Social Security Administration, said not to believe the misinformation being circulated by groups who want to privatize the nation' oldest entitlement program.
"There's so many lies told about Social Security," Roosevelt said.
He said the real budgetary issues with Social Security are overblown and that the answer is a few minor adjustments to the payroll tax structure to account for the projected 2 to 4 percent shortfall for scheduled payouts beginning in 2041.
Those proposed changes would only affect people earning more than $102,000, Roosevelt said. "We can find a fair way to make them contribute."
Kennelly said she has spoken with McCain about Social Security and was amazed at his lack of understanding about how the program actually works.
"I believe John McCain needs a tutorial on Social Security," Kennely said.
Roosevelt also equated Social Security with the ability to save for college tuition and other major investments for which many American's save substantial amounts of money. He said that Social Security helps lift people out of poverty by allowing them to spend their financial resources on things like an education as opposed to saving to support elderly parents or themselves after retirement.
"There's a world of difference between the two parties on Social Security and Medicare reform," Roosevelt said as he pinned the lack of progress in Congress on the issue on the intractable Republican minority.
"It's in our children and our grandchildren's interest to elect Barak Obama and Democratic congressmen and senators," said Roosevelt.
While it is was acknowledged that Obama is about 20 points behind McCain in the latest polls involving seniors, the fight is far from over.
"We (seniors) will have to be willing to go out there and talk about Social Security," Kennely said.
Schakowsky said the best way to spread the word about Obama was by talking to friends and neighbors the damage McCain will do to seniors if he is elected president.
"Think about the 537 votes that created an eight year nightmare," said Schakowsky referring to the 2000 Florida vote that put George W. Bush in the White House.
Retired U.S. Sen. John Melcher, now the president of the National Democratic Seniors Coordinating Council, reminded the audience of the importance of voting for Obama this November.
"When seniors vote democratic, Democrats win," Melcher said.