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Sen. Wyden takes that common question from a very well-informed constituent

PMG PHOTO: BILL GALLAGHER - Bob Joondeph, one of five members of the Social Security Advisory Board, asks Sen. Ron Wyden about the future of that program. Malcolm McGeary of Wyden's staff held the mic for Joondeph in the cafeteria of Robert Gray Middle School on Nov. 9.Like about 250 of Sen. Ron Wyden's constituents in Southwest Portland, Bob Joondeph decided to check out the senator's town hall in the cafeteria of Robert Gray Middle School on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Joondeph, of the Arlington Heights neighborhood, happens to be one of five Americans who officially advise the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives on Social Security. He was nominated for the independent, bi-partisan, federal government agency known as the Social Security Advisory Board last year by Wyden. Before that appointment he spent three decades heading Disability Rights Oregon.

Once at the town hall, Joondeph entered a drawing to ask Wyden a question. To his surprise, his number was picked.

"I'm not used to winning anything," he told the SW Connection afterwards. "There must be some cosmic reason I got to ask my question. I was wired for it."

Joondeph's question?

"I want to ask you," he said to Wyden, "what I get asked all the time. Is Social Security going to be there for our children and grandchildren?"

After warmly greeting him and noting for the crowd Joondeph's position in Washington, D.C., Wyden said, "It has to be there because it's a contract with the American people."

Then Wyden acknowledged that the national retirement system Joondeph helps oversee in his advisory role is in trouble.

"If you're 50 today and you've done hard physical labor and you're looking forward to retiring in 14 years, you've got a locomotive coming at you. So some action has to be taken," Wyden said.

"I know he's dedicated to Social Security and its maintenance," Joondeph said. "I didn't expect him to say "Nah, forget about Social Security.'"

According to the latest government report, if nothing is done, by 2035 the system can only afford to pay 80% of the retirement funds American workers have been promised.

Wyden is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee — that's how he came to nominate Joonndeph to the advisory board — and would become chair of that powerful committee should the Democrats pick up enough seats in the 2020 election to become the majority in the Senate. The Finance Committee is responsible for making sure Social Security is there for future generations.

Wyden released a proposal for "fixing" Social Security funding in September. Oregon's senior senator wants to overhaul the Tax Code by making the top 0.3% of taxpayers pay the same tax rate on their wealth that most Americans pay on their wages. Doing so, he said, could raise up to $2 trillion, which could then be used to assure full funding for Social Security from 2035 going forward.

Joondeph called the proposal "interesting."

He said it's important to "put ideas out there and this indicates he takes the issue seriously. Do I expect anything to get passed in the exact form he's introduced? That doesn't happen too often."

Before his appointment to the advisory board, Joondeph, a lawyer, was instrumental in a number of landmark legal decisions favoring people with disabilities.

Now he's got a new cause.

"The perspective I bring (to the board) is the perspective of the recipient," said Joondeph, who applies for his own Social Security benefits in six months when he turns 70. "Public benefits programs are absolutely essential. Especially disability programs. They are how people survive.

"I know their problems. That and being a lawyer are the things that I bring (to the board)," he said.

It also helps being from Southwest Portland. "All of the other people (on the board) are from Washington, D.C., the Beltway," he said. "I'm the only person who's not out of that world."

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To see Sen. Ron Wyden's proposal to fix the tax code, go online to tinyurl.com/tcovouw


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