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, November 1, 2015

Social Security exploited by war, needs reforms: readers

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 29, 30 or 31

A federal budget deal reached Monday would avert a government shutdown and debt crisis, and avoids most of the temptations to trim Social Security as expressed by GOP presidential candidates, as I wrote in mid-September. But some readers say I went too far in criticizing one reform idea but didn’t go far enough in condemning Republicans’ complicity in damaging the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had apparently tried to link votes on funding government operations – which should happen by Nov. 5 or lead to another shutdown – to big changes in Social Security and Medicare, according to CNN. However, Monday’s deal – which the House could consider this week just as Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan is picked as Speaker – would make just two changes.

The agreement stops a 20-percent cut in benefits to Social Security Disability Insurance recipients but does so by diverting FICA revenues from SS’s main fund, and it extends a 2-percent cut in reimbursements to Medicare doctors.

One downstate Illinois Republican shared concerns about Social Security but believes one reform suggestion has merit.

“I am a Republican and believe that Social Security and Medicare are outside the federal government's constitutional responsibility,” he said. “However, these programs are something we have to do to take care of the more vulnerable members of our society. I agree that these programs cannot be privatized and given over to the thieves on Fraud Street and the Banksters. We should also not increase the age of eligibility for younger people; people already have to work too long.”

However, he added, “I have heard means testing mentioned [and] I believe means testing is an essential part of returning Social Security (and Medicare) to sustainability. Means testing should take effect for total incomes over about $50,000 per year.

“I would be affected in the future if means testing were implemented,” added the Republican, who’s 60 years old. “[But] I feel it is the right thing for the more fortunate to do. The argument that the more fortunate pay in more to begin with is irrelevant since paying into the fund is no guarantee of receiving benefits.”

Meanwhile, a retired nurse weighed in with a reminder that the previous administration tapped in to Social Security to finance wars.

“Right after [the] ‘shock and awe’ of the Iraq War, then-President Bush conveniently borrowed [from] the Social Security Trust Fund with his presidential power to pay for the suddenly escalating war after he announced ‘mission accomplished’,” she said. “Of course the Republicans said they would pay it back to the fund but never did.”

Indeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times reported, “Bush technically did ‘borrow’ Social Security surplus, about $708 billion, to pay for the income tax cuts and the Iraq war. [But] Bush didn’t exclusively spend on the war. Other big costs include the financial bailout in 2008.”

Such a temptation to “rob Peter to pay Paul” is short-sighted, conceded the Republican, who advocates raising what Social Security pays recipients.

“We should be increasing benefits for seniors who are living in poverty,” he said. “This should not be happening in the 21st century. Social Security and Medicare should be called what they really are: welfare programs for seniors paid for by the FICA tax and other taxes and borrowing. We should break the facade between contributions and benefits, and we should be keeping old folks from poverty, not providing a second home in Florida or new cars to the well-to-do.

“One of the greatest sins of our political leaders is failing to implement measures to grow our manufacturing sector and our economy overall,” he continued. “We need economic growth to be able to really afford these programs. We need to see far more ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ on the products we purchase and increasing numbers of products we export.”

As to Capitol Hill’s firebrand conservatives, it’s unclear how or when GOP presidential candidates will target Social Security next – or whether Senators would go along. After all, 24 Republican Senators face re-election next year, some in states that historically have supported Democrats, from Illinois (where GOP incumbent Mark Kirk faces Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth) to Pennsylvania.

As I wrote earlier this fall, “Americans should cut through the fog of fear, hate and debate outrage, and vote their own interests – against cutting Social Security.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from Citizens UnTied/facebook.]

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