By Dr. Thomas Patterson |
Joe Biden is facing a moral dilemma. Does he embrace politically unpopular reforms to Social Security and Medicare that will ensure their survival for future generations? Or does he, for short-term political gain, aggressively block any changes to these iconic retirement programs?
Democrats have worked hard and successfully to make Medicare and Social Security the “third rail” of American politics. Medicare and Social Security reform now have such a stink about them that Republican lawmakers shouted their outrage at allegations that they were threatening Social Security in President Biden’s State of the Union address.
The only current proposal, by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, would merely require periodically reviewing Social Security and other major programs to assure that they are functioning as intended…which happens to be virtually identical to a proposal advanced in 1975, and again in 1990, by a senator with the same name as the current president.
Demagogues on the left learned long ago that many seniors could be freaked out by baseless charges that “they’re trying to take away your Social Security” or “drive grandma over the cliff.”
Biden’s allegations that many Republicans “dream” of eliminating Social Security are deliberate lies. C’mon, man. We need to have an urgent, focused debate over Social Security and Medicare reform, but Biden has so toxified the issue that politicians seem frozen in place.
But there are reasons why we can’t allow these entitlements to be ruled out-of-bounds for serious debate and improvement. Social Security is a broken, outdated program that by 2034 will be unable to pay its promises. Medicare, according to its own trustees, will be insolvent by 2028.
The assumption has been that these programs, upon which so many seniors depend, will never be endangered. General tax revenues will come to the rescue. But the general fund is close to being tapped out.
America is an unbelievable $31 trillion in debt. Interest payments will soon exceed $1 trillion annually. We are already having trouble financing the basic functions of government, like the national defense.
Even the strongest line of credit in the world can be depleted eventually. If America goes bust, the chance to embrace the painful but necessary solutions available now will be gone.
The answer lies in understanding our history. Social Security was designed as a safety net for those who outlived their earning years. It was a government-administered insurance trust that all paid into to provide retirement income for those who needed it. Insurance 101.
But there was a fatal flaw in the program’s design. They neglected to protect it from the Swamp. The funds supposedly being held in trust were stolen (“borrowed”) so that government programs could grow without the inconvenience of raising taxes.
With nothing left in the trust fund for retirement benefits, Social Security was turned into a Ponzi scheme, where every dollar paid in went immediately out the door to fund current benefits. Like all Ponzi schemes, this one worked for a while.
In 1950, there were 16 workers to fund every retiree. Now there are less than three. By 2030, every Social Security recipient will be supported by just two workers.
We did our seniors no favor by forcing them to contribute to a “retirement fund” that was actually just another welfare program, thus depriving them of the substantial benefits of compound interest. Yet now Biden wants to pose as their champion.
“Let’s all agree to stand up for seniors,” he recently urged. Yet his brave agenda was to do…nothing. (This happens to also be the position of Donald Trump, another leader not there when most needed.)
Forget reform. All Social Security recipients recently got an unfunded benefit spike. Many Democrats want to put everyone on Medicare, the equivalent of loading more passengers onto a sinking ship. Brilliant!
This insanity must stop. In fact, it will stop because it’s unsustainable. There’s just the question of how much more misery we want to inflict on those who will inherit this hot mess.
There are plenty of promising solutions out there, which urgently need to be vetted and discussed. All roads to a prosperous future for America lead through Medicare and Social Security reform.
The worst option is to listen to President Biden and ignore the portents of disaster.
Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.