Social Security, Medicare are not entitlements
Published 11:52 am Friday, March 17, 2023
More than once this session of Congress, it has been mentioned that Social Security and Medicare be voted on each year by Congress. First off, it’s one of those appropriations that Congress has no business touching. When some members of Congress talk about Social Security and Medicare, they refer to it as “entitlements,” and they act as if it is charity or coming out of their pockets.
In fact, both programs, despite their problems, are crucial to millions of older Americans who have paid into them throughout their working lives and, thus, are entitled to. Social Security is among the most popular programs, not just in government today, but in the history of government. It deserves its popularity. When Franklin Roosevelt ushered it in during the 1930s (over intense Republican opposition), the goal was to end the then-common specter of poverty that awaited most Americans in old age. It has worked spectacularly. Unlike most government programs, it is largely self-funded, by future retirees. Medicare, which came along in the 1960s to address retiree medical care, operates under a similar process.
Are the two programs in danger? South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham says “entitlement reform is a must. Our main focus has got to be on non discretionary spending – it’s got to be on entitlements.” Florida’s senator Rick Scott wants all programs sunset after five years. This means that every five years, they should face cuts. And, Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin would put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every single year as targets for politicians haggling over government spending.
Imagine not knowing if Social Security and Medicare will be around and trying to plan your retirement when you’re in your 40s, with these guys in power. And it’s not just Social Security and Medicare at risk: Veterans’ benefits and everything else in the federal budget would also be subject to annual cuts.
Looming over this debate, meanwhile, is the same tactic that Republicans used in the past to try to get their way: Threatening to shut down the government if Democrats don’t cooperate, and hold our economy hostage. Like they did when they tried to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act.
Don’t buy their claims that this is necessary because our entitlement system is on the verge of financial collapse. Both parties agree that we have to ensure the solvency of these programs, but there are other ways to do that without putting seniors at risk. For instance, we could make these benefits more generous and extend their solvency by taxing sources of income mostly for the very rich, like capital gains, that currently aren’t subject to Social Security taxes.
Republicans didn’t balk at extending tax breaks to the wealthiest among us as part of their 2017 tax reform legislation. Yet guys like Ron Johnson are now complaining that Social Security and Medicare automatically grant benefits to people who have been paying into the system for their entire working lives. “If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost,” he lamented.
Let’s be clear: You get it, because you earned it. American retirees “had long hours and sore backs and bad knees to get that Social Security,” as former President Barack Obama put it during a visit to Milwaukee.
“And if Ron Johnson does not understand that — if he understands giving tax breaks for private planes more than he understands making sure that seniors who have worked all their lives are able to retire with dignity and respect — he’s not the person who’s thinking about you and knows you and sees you, and he should not be a senator.
The same goes for the other Republicans now eyeing these benefits for cuts.
Think about this. In 2022, there were 617 retired Members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of October 1, 2018. Of this number, 318 had retired under the Civil Service Retirement System and were receiving an average annual pension of $75,528. A total of 299 Members had retired with service under the Federal Employees’s Retirement System and were receiving an average annual pension of $41,208 in 2018.
Many Americans struggle to save for retirement. Funding for employee pension programs, both public and private, can also be challenging. While many are facing lots of uncomfortable realities – elected representatives and senators in the United State Congress still receive envious pension benefits for life. Retirement pay for Congress is not normally a big election-year issue, but it might serve as evidence of a disconnect between lawmakers and mainstream America.