Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Column



My latest column in our local newspaper:

President Obama is “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.” So stated the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee a while back, and it’s instructive. He was referring to the president’s plan to alter the way cost of living increases are calculated for Social Security, a plan which rightly has liberals screaming, and which, like Obamacare, was once an idea promoted by Republicans. 
There are insights to be gained from the declaration. First of all it’s either ignorant, or assumes ignorance of voters, or both. Because budget deficits have little to do with Social Security, which is funded separately; and whereas the funding needs eventual restructuring, it won’t affect the federal budget by a dime, one way or the other. Second, it’s stupefyingly cynical, even by the standards of today’s Republicans, who’ve hated Social Security since before Adam ate an Archaeopteryx. Their goals include, in descending order, getting rid of it, privatizing it, or cutting it back like crabgrass. Since taking over the House, they’ve been demanding entitlement cuts at gunpoint, with the gun held to the head of functioning government. Yet when President Obama, proving once again that he’s anything but the far-left socialist Kenyan Nazi dictator Fox “news” and rabid radio ranters of the right claim he is, proposes a fix he thinks might have a chance of passing through a teabag, ticking off liberals in the process, Rs glom the opportunity to prevaricate and fundraise off of it. What is there to say but “Wow”? Okay, “Yikes,” maybe. Or “We’re irreparably doomed by a party that has unashamedly rejected effective governance in favor of dishonest gamesmanship and obstructionism for its own sake.” Yeah: that last one. 
Still believing he’ll see Republican hands reaching back when he outstretches his, President Obama continues to disregard the obvious: it doesn’t matter what he does, how far past half-way he goes; today’s Republicans aren’t interested. How many times must he draw back a bloody stump before he gets that? His offer got him less than nowhere: no quarter from Rs, and outrage from Ds. Plus, the singular focus on this one thing has obscured good stuff in his budget. He didn’t see it coming? He hasn’t noticed they’re cynical enough to rail against him for doing the very thing they demanded? 
Count me among liberals who don’t like President Obama’s plan. “Chained CPI,” as it’s called (evocative name), is the one formulation that hurts only those most dependent on Social Security. Cost of living increases were already meager; chained CPI lowers them by assuming when prices rise, people buy cheaper things, so they need less of an increase. But holding back a few bucks a month harms only those to whom a few bucks a month is really important, making it the worst possible choice. I assume it’s the only one President Obama figured had a ghostly chance with House regressives; because the simplest, most logical, and most effective solution, which fixes Social Security approximately forever, has as much chance with today’s Republicans as declaring August “Climate Change Recognition Month,” or modifying our motto to “E Compromisibus Unum.” 
The answer is to remove the limit on income subject to Social Security withholding, currently capped at a hundred thirteen grand. Unlike Medicare, which taxes (at a much lower rate) all income levels, people stop paying into Social Security on earnings above that amount. Eliminating the cap would raise more cash than chained CPI would save; but for today’s Republicans the problem is that the money comes from those who can actually afford it, instead of those who can’t. That sound you hear is exploding teapots. 
I don’t enjoy paying taxes any more than you do, but I think I get better value in return than, say, from my cable bill, or the price of a pair of jeans. (The people of Boston, West, and Moore are getting value, too; although the latter two suffered greatly from lax regulation.) Yes, there’s abuse, as we learned recently about government retirees around here. But I appreciate having roads to drive on, cops to count on, schools to call on to nurture our next genii. And if there are some who milk the system, I count a lot more deserving retired people, barely getting by after a long life of labor; or the disabled, veterans and others, who need help. They’re not getting too much from Social Security, and they’re not the ones who should pay to fix it.
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