Parallels Between Social Security In 1937 And Today’s Issues

A popular saying is that “the more something changes, the more it stays the same.” It is a phrase that we will probably hear quite a bit as politics surrounding the 2012 Presidential election heat up. One of the areas where it rings true is the current debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare,” as we often hear). The connection – for better or worse – that many are making is between Obamacare and the first days of Social Security.

As the Republican primaries have demonstrated, no politician will likely be seeking to drastically cut or change Social Security. Americans – both Republicans and Democrats – overwhelmingly support Social Security benefits, but many may not be aware that this was not always the case. Social Security almost never came into existence.

Social Security’s creation came about with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1935 Social Security Act. It was by no means overwhelmingly popular at the time. Critics said it was far beyond the power of the federal government. They said it was so expansive and unprecedented that it was unconstitutional. It nearly was, as the Supreme Court struck down several of FDR’s New Deal legislative proposals. FDR threatened to “pack the court” (increase the size of the Supreme Court and appoint all of his own men to the court) in order to pass Social Security.

Ultimately, FDR did not have to pack the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that Social Security was constitutional on May 24, 1937. Famed judge Benjamin Cardozo wrote the court opinion that upheld Social Security. His words are worth considering today given the debates we face. He noted that what may be necessary today, may not have been years ago. “What is critical or urgent changes with the times.” He also said, “Whether wisdom or unwisdom resides in the scheme of benefits set forth…it is not for us to say. The answers to such inquiries must come from Congress, not the courts.”

Can the controversy that surrounded 1937’s Social Security Act shed any light on questions we face today? Are you worried about the fate of your Social Security benefits?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability attorneys


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