Robert Samuelson—Subsidizing the elderly is the biggest piece of federal spending

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The problems of old age (chronic illness, outliving savings, loneliness) are real, but age by itself is not an indicator of need. The blanket defense of existing Social Security and Medicare isn’t “liberal” or “progressive.” It’s simply a political expedient with ruinous consequences. It enlarges budget deficits and forces an unfair share of adjustment — higher taxes, lower spending — on workers and other government programs. This is the morality of the ballot box.

People do not lose their obligations to the larger society by turning 65. We need to refocus these programs on their original purposes. Social Security was intended to prevent poverty, not finance recipients’ extra cable channels. Medicare provides peace of mind as well as health insurance; wealthier recipients can afford to pay more for their peace of mind. Burden-sharing needs to include the elderly. This is the crux of the budget problem.

Facing it is both a moral and financial imperative. With the 2012 election looming, major overhauls of these programs seem unlikely. Still, more modest changes (slow increases in eligibility ages, added taxation of Social Security benefits, costlier Medicare for upscale beneficiaries) could produce significant savings. If even these are absent, the meaning will be plain: Old stereotypes continue to trump new realities.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchAging / the Elderly* Economics, PoliticsEconomyCredit MarketsCurrency MarketsThe Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--The U.S. GovernmentBudgetMedicareSocial SecurityThe National DeficitThe United States Currency (Dollar etc)Politics in GeneralHouse of RepresentativesOffice of the PresidentPresident Barack ObamaSenate

10 Comments
Posted May 17, 2011 at 6:02 am

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/36544/



1. Cennydd13 wrote:

Umm, I’m 73, and if you were to ask me if I’m better off than I was when I was 65, the answer would be no, I’m not.  Sure, I’m pretty healthy, thanks to the VA (my service-connected disability notwithstanding) and not to Medicare…..which I have never used, by the way.  My wife and I pay taxes on our Social Security, since it’s income, and therefore we pay what we consider to be our fair share…..which means we’re not hogs feeding at the public trough.  We’re not exactly living high on the hog, but we are fairly comfortable, since we’re good at managing our finances….unlike some.  And sure, we’re seniors, but we’re not ‘elderly.’

May 17, 11:16 am | [comment link]
2. Henry Greville wrote:

It is a personal and social good these days for many Americans to be living far into their eighth, ninth, and even tenth decades - yet it also presents a vexing political economic problem for younger partisan legislators, since the financing systems for Social Security and Medicare have never been predicated on such longevity. It would seem to make the most sense at least (1) gradually to increase to age 70 the minimum age for receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits and (2) gradually to raise both Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes and eventually to eliminate the cap on income subject to those same taxes.

May 17, 3:36 pm | [comment link]
3. Cennydd13 wrote:

I agree.

May 17, 4:27 pm | [comment link]
4. Clueless wrote:

I disagree. SS and Medicare were meant to be a poverty program to keep old folks from starving or dying of broken hips, not to keep old folks on the golf links.  Those above the poverty level SHOULD NOT RECEIVE IT. They should be ASHAMED to receive it.

Frankly, I am fricking sick and tired of the (early) boomers.  (The second half of the boom, grew up after Vietnam, graduated into the 1970s recession, and their fate is much the same as that of Gen X).

I have listened to the early boomers sing the “I’m entitled” song all my life.  I remember in residency the senior residents saying “No, we can’t take call, seniors NEVER take call, just because hospital coverage has tripled, you guys need to be on every other, we can’t take call, we are OWED.

And of course, by the time I was a senior resident, I was taking call every other because I am NOT an As*h+#!@ like my colleges.  (Neither were the folks below me).

The PATIENTS needed a functional system, so WE put out even though the jerks above us did not.  Now, we are hearing the “I am owed song” yet again.  Well you aren’t.  The early boom, with their effing sex, drugs and Me culture, and their infliction of divorce, pharmaceuticals instead of discipline in the schools, their hatred of America, and their debasement of the culture aren’t owed ANYTHING.  They have already screwed the next SEVERAL generations, with their embracement of debt based and Ponzi financing, their switch to college loans for those who came after them, and most of all their creepy attitudes about wealth, family, patriotism and most everything else that counts.

NO MORE ENTITLEMENTS.  Social Security is welfare, and I prefer single moms to golfing gomers as welfare recipients.  Let them get in line based on income and contributions.  (Those who went to Vietnam, maybe, though VA benefits cover that).  Those who stayed home smoking pot, they need to work for a living, like the rest of us.  God knows that entire cohort didn’t do a stroke of work earlier.

May 17, 7:01 pm | [comment link]
5. Cennydd13 wrote:

I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I was still injured while on active duty in far off remote Greenland defending my country from potential missile attack (lotsa fun…..try it sometime!), and it was in line of duty.  During my working life from the time I set pins in a bowling alley at age 15 while in high school until I was finally forced to accept the fact that I couldn’t pursue gainful employment after I was retired for disability from the USAF, I paid into Social Security…..as did every other serviceman and woman.  Uncle Sam made a promise to every man and woman who served the Armed Forces that they would be looked after…..and by that, I mean that we entered into a contract with the American people.  We honored that contract, and it cost many of us our health…...and far too many lost their lives. 

Yes, Social Security does need reform, and it needs it now.  Until that happens, or until a better idea which will be fairer to American people of working age as well as retirement age replaces it, (yes, I know there are other ways) we will have to continue to try to be more understanding and charitable to those who must depend on it in order to survive.  Let’s not put down these folks for depending on the system that they inherited.  Want to reform Social Security in another way?  Deny coverage to everyone who hasn’t actually paid into it.

May 17, 10:08 pm | [comment link]
6. Cennydd13 wrote:

And both my wife and I pay income tax on our Social Security.

May 17, 10:45 pm | [comment link]
7. Larry Morse wrote:

Why is means testing for ss so difficult to grasp and to implement.
Larry

May 18, 5:39 pm | [comment link]
8. Cennydd13 wrote:

How would you implement means testing?  How would you distinguish between those who qualify and those who don’t, since we all pay into the system?

May 18, 11:36 pm | [comment link]
9. Larry Morse wrote:

#8 by using the income tax. There should be a progresssive restriction on ss benefits as income increases. This means that some people will pay into the system and get little out because they make too much money. This ought not to be difficult (as a concept). Since the rich and the powerful own the political system, it’s probably impossible to do. If we are unable to remove vast tax breaks from Big Oil, what hope does anyone have that the well-heeled will do anything except get richer. L

May 19, 7:46 am | [comment link]
10. Cennydd13 wrote:

Ever hear of the Sherman Anti Trust Act?  We can start going after Big Oil by hauling them into federal court, and if that doesn’t work, we can fire Congress wholesale by voting them out of office come election time.  They’re the ones who take their marching orders from Bis Oil, after all, aren’t they?  We need a clean sweep from top to bottom, and if Congress isn’t careful, that’s exactly what’s likely to happen.  After all, Congress busted up the trusts once before, and it could happen again if the American people get angry enough to demand it.  And I think they will.

May 19, 10:10 am | [comment link]


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