A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

GOP Congressmen again target Social Security

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 17, 18 or 19

Halfway through the Oct. 1-17 government shutdown, four Illinois Congressmen signed an Oct. 8 letter from 51 Republican members of the House asking Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to take advantage of the moment to negotiate changes to Social Security.

Since no Democrats signed the correspondence, it’s logical that such “changes” do not mean raising benefits. Since Republicans have previously sought cuts in Social Security or even to privatize it, a communication targeting Social Security during a crisis engineered to block the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) may be a shock – especially to Illinoisans who rely on Social Security.

The Illinois Congressmen signing the appeal to look at Social Security and entitlement programs in the context of deficits were Randy Hultgren (from the 14th District), John Shimkus (15th). Adam Kinzinger (16th) and Aaron Schock (18th).

The correspondence was sent by U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.). Ribble himself suggests cutting Social Security recipients’ Cost of Living increases, raising the retirement age, reducing the cap on taxable income to “Reagan-era” levels, and starting “means-testing” eligibility.

The attached letter signed by 50 other Republicans is less specific, saying, “Social Security provides us the best opportunity to begin solving our nation’s significant budget imbalances” and that “the ongoing fiscal discussions in Congress provide an opportunity to address entitlement program deficits ... with our limited time frame to take action before we run up against fiscal deadlines.”

However, Social Security is funded separately from federal spending. Further, there would be real casualties from such moves.

Generally, in these four Illinois districts, 440,000 people could suffer losses if cuts are made. In Schock’s district alone, there are more than 102,000 retirees, 16,000 disabled workers, 18,000 widows/widowers, and 9,000 kids, according to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare.

Specifically, changing the Cost of Living formula as suggested by Ribble (and, actually, once considered by President Obama) would cost a 65 year old American $5,000 in the next 10 years, and $14,000 in 20 years, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would mean Americans age 65 and 66 could lose Medicare coverage, and raising Social Security’s retirement age would especially hit construction workers and other employees in manual labor or comparable, demanding work since they’d have to remain on the job longer in challenging circumstances.

As to lowering the cap on income taxed to support Social Security (Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance): The cap is now $113,700, so people earning more than that pay no more than those who report $113,700, so people who make $500,000 a year – or $5 million or $5 billion – pay the same as the taxpayer making $113,700 a year. The Reagan-era levels Ribble seeks would be between $25,900 and $45,000, meaning that taxpayers would contribute toward Social Security only up to $45,000 in annual taxable income.

In fact, raising the cap makes more sense, according to Reuters journalist David Cay Johnson, whose reporting found that raising the cap to $200,000 would generate more revenue without cutting Americans’ benefits.

Finally, one proposed “means testing” for Social Security would define $35,000 as “middle income,” says AARP, and applying it to Medicare’s ‘income-related premiums” would cost Medicare recipients $47,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Again Social Security is funded independently from the federal budget, and the Social Security trust fund now holds more than $27 trillion and can continue to grow until 2021 with no changes. So why this idea and why now?

Perhaps it was an effort to find an escape from an unpopular and damaging political stunt (the letter doesn’t even mention the Affordable Care Act), and it shifts Boehner’s attention back to the budget cuts offered years ago by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other conservatives.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that by an overwhelming, 22-point margin, Americans blame Republicans for the government shutdown and threat to the debt ceiling. Only 24 percent say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party – the lowest approval rating in history. Just 21 percent said they have a favorable view of the Tea Party.

Before the agreement temporarily ending the shutdown and risk of default, AFL-CIO Policy Director Damon Silvers said, “People need to tell the President, ‘Stand tall, we are with you. No negotiating with hostage-takers. Not about the Affordable Care Act, not about the Grand Bargain and certainly not about cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid – or more giveaways for big corporations that outsource jobs. You won the election. You must defend democracy and you must stand up for the 99 percent’.”

[The correspondence from Ribble and the rest is online –]

[PICTURED: The letter 51 Congressmen signed to urge Speaker Boehner to link "fiscal discussions" and Social Security and other entitlements.]

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