A blogger in New York state’s North Country says she’s going to vote for Barack Obama in order to ensure than Social Security and Medicare are here for her children and grandchildren.
Once upon a time I cast a vote that I later deeply regretted. I was a member of a labor union, and I voted for a contract that preserved my benefits, but reduced them for people who would be hired in the future. Upon reflection, that vote left a bitter taste in my mouth. I vowed to never again cast a vote that would preserve privileges for myself, and deny them to others.
This election is another occasion when I’m being offered that choice.
Over and over, Romney, Ryan and their surrogates say that if you are 55 years or older, your Social Security and Medicare benefits will not change under the Ryan budget, which Romney has pledged to sign into law. That’s not good enough for me.
Obama’s public stance on Social Security is that he “believes that no current beneficiaries should see their basic benefits reduced and he will not accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations.” I’ve read many articles over the years that point out that the fix for Social Security is a small one: lift the income ceiling for the payroll tax that funds the program so that wealthier people pay more into the system. If that seems unfair to those wealthier people, I answer that it means that their rate of return drops, but that they benefit – we all benefit – when our elderly are not poor. An economic analysis done by Gary Engelhardt and Jonathan Gruber in 2004 states that the poverty rate among the elderly declined from 35 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 1995, and concludes that this reduction in poverty can be explained by increases in Social Security support.
I don’t think of Social Security as a retirement investment. I think of it as an insurance program that we all pay in to so that our parents will have greater financial stability in old age, and so that we ourselves will have greater financial stability when we get old. I want my kids and grandkids (and YOUR kids and grandkids) to also be part of the program.
The fix for Medicare is tougher, with the poorly funded addition of prescription drug coverage in 2006 not helping the financial situation. Healthcare costs are tough to handle at all levels right now, whether you are poor on Medicaid, receiving Medicare, have private insurance (as I do), or are uninsured. Obamacare actually helps Medicare, extending the period of time until costs exceed revenues. I know that a fix is needed, but I won’t sign on to one with my vote that will greatly increase health insurance costs for my kids and grandkids while preserving my benefits.
What it comes down to for me: If we decide as a nation that we can no longer afford to take care of our elderly as we are doing now, then a scaling back of benefits should happen now, for everyone. Our young people by and large are not any more able to put money aside for their retirement and future healthcare costs than my generation was, so why should we be sheltered while they take the brunt of both paying for my benefits and then not getting similar benefits when they retire?
I’m voting for the team that seems to want to at least try to solve the problems so that we don’t rob a basic level of security from our kids and grandkids. The future generations who will be affected by a downgrade of Social Security and Medicare are not way off in the foggy future. They will be sitting around the table at this year’s holiday dinners with us.
I think scifiknitter is dead right about the importance of defending Social Security and Medicare from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. But I don’t share her confidence that Barack Obama can be counted on to defend these vital programs for the next generation.
The President time and time again has expressed a willingness to cut Social Security, Medicare and other social programs in return for a return to Clinton-era tax rates on Americans in the upper income brackets. He packed the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission with advocates of cutting back on Social Security. This is not something he was forced to do. He could have achieved his tax goals simply by allowing the Bush era tax cuts to expire.
President Obama had not made Social Security and Medicare a central issue in the campaign. In the debates, he told Governor Romney that he thought the two of them largely agreed about Social Security, and that he was open to the same kind of fixes that were made under President Reagan. Those fixes entailed increasing payroll taxes and raising the Social Security retirement age.
The President says he will not accept reductions in “basic” benefits for current recipients or “slashes” in benefits for future generations. He doesn’t define “basic” or “slashes,” so if you read his statement as a lawyer would, you see he gives himself a great deal of leeway.
I think that President Obama’s goal is a grand bargain with the Republican leadership to balance the federal budget by means of moderate tax increases with cutbacks in government spending, including entitlement programs. He has expressed a willingness to make more cutbacks in social programs than rich people would pay in increased taxes. I don’t know what is in his mind, but my guess is that he accepts the elite consensus of opinion and sincerely believes that cutbacks in social programs are necessary.
Click on Seniors and Social Security for the full White House statement on Social Security.
Click on Social Security and the Evolution of Elderly Poverty study for the full Engelhardt and Gruber study.
Click on Romney’s statements on Social Security for quotes illustrating Mitt Romney’s positions. He really is as extreme an enemy of Social Security as scifiknitter says he is.
Click on Why even President Obama won’t champion Social Security for economics journalist Dean Baker’s analysis of the reasons why Obama and other American politicians won’t stand up for the United States’ most popular social program.
Click on Obama’s Betrayals: First the Base, Then the Party for comment on the significance of the President’s failure to campaign for progressive Democrats.