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From the category archives: Medicare

Populism, Promises and Privatization: Mike Huckabee and Social Security

Former Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, found out early in the primary race a populist tone combined with a promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits would provide a political opportunity to distinguish himself from the GOP pack who’ve been racing to see who could cut more middle-class benefits faster.

Unfortunately, Huckabee’s Oped in the DesMoines Register today made it abundantly clear that, in spite of his rhetoric, his actually plans for the programs are just more of the same: repeal Obamacare and the billions in benefits and years of solvency that comes with it, privatize the programs, and replace Social Security’s funding with a regressive tax changing the program from an earned benefit into a welfare program.

You have to ask yourself, is this really how a champion of Social Security and Medicare describes these programs?

“Washington confiscates money from every American’s paycheck”

“The government grabs that money”

“Washington has been pick-pocketing us every day of our working lives.”

“Washington put a gun to your head and robbed it from your paycheck.”

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman reacted to Huckabee’s piece this way:

“While it’s encouraging to see one GOP presidential candidate finally acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare benefits should not be cut (“Don’t Cut Benefits America’s Seniors already paid for” Aug 12, 2015), it’s also clear Governor Huckabee’s reasoning is built on a flawed political premise that Social Security and Medicare were built through federal ‘confiscation’ and ‘pick-pocketing.’

No doubt, this plays well with the candidate’s Tea Party base, especially those who are conflicted in their hatred of government and love for its two largest programs, Social Security and Medicare.  However, it’s clear Huckabee’s views have far more in common with the GOP Presidential pack than the American people who value these programs in their current form, not the privatized preference he supports.  Taxing “illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers,” to pay for Social Security doesn’t seriously address income adequacy or long-term solvency while repealing Obamacare would steal years of solvency from Medicare and billions in new benefits for seniors. 

The American people, of all ages and parties, support Social Security and Medicare because they work.  Promising to protect benefits, while maligning the very essence of these programs and supporting the same old GOP prescriptions may be a good political strategy but it has little to do with improving the programs for generations of Americans.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Not mentioned in his Des Moines Register piece, and only rarely discussed, is the fact the Huckabee also supports various forms of privatization ranging from ending Social Security’s guaranteed monthly benefit in exchange for a lump-sum payment to private accounts for future generations. 

“Instead of signing up for Social Security sometime between the ages of 62 and 70, which is currently the only option for eligible Americans, and receiving a monthly benefits check, Huckabee wants to offer a one-time, lump-sum cash out benefit at age 65 to participants that would be completely free of taxation. Per Huckabee, it would remove the government's ongoing involvement in providing for seniors, and it would potentially allow seniors the opportunity to invest their lump-sum payment in order to achieve inflation-topping returns.”  Motley Fool

Sound familiar?  It should, as it’s the same send-your-Social-Security-to-Wall-Street goal expressed by President George Bush during his failed campaign a decade ago to privatize Social Security – delivered in a slightly different way.  Apparently everything old is new again.

Huckabee also uses Social Security and Medicare, based on his misdiagnosis of the long-term solvency issue, to defend a terribly regressive tax policy -- the Fair Tax -- which rewards the rich and punishes everyone else: 

“Citizens for Tax Justice and the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation have each found that to raise the same amount of revenue as current law, the sales tax rate would have to be about 50 percent.

A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that under the “Fair Tax,” the top 1 percent of taxpayers would receive an average annual tax cut of $225,000. Meanwhile, the plan would increase taxes by about $3,200 on average on the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers. In other words, Huckabee’s tax plan would significantly increase taxes on the overwhelming majority of Americans to pay for huge tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans.”

Time will tell if seniors will take the “I won’t cut your benefits” bait and ignore the details of Governor Huckabee’s plans for Social Security and Medicare.  As is always the case in every political campaign, the devil is in those details.  

The GOP Debate Watchers Guide on Social Security & Medicare


Busting Tonight’s Top 5 GOP Myths – In Advance

You don’t have to be much of a political sooth-sayer to predict that, given the GOP rush to attack what the party calls “entitlements” (and what everyone else knows are actually earned benefits), tonight’s debate will likely touch on the GOP Presidential candidates’ plans for Social Security and Medicare. 

Unfortunately, since this debate is being moderated by Fox News that discussion will start from the flawed premise that these programs are “bankrupt,” destroying America’s economy and simply too expensive.  It’s likely to go downhill from there as the GOP Presidential contenders have already tried to prove their conservative bona-fides by out tough-talking each other in a rush to cut benefits more than the guys standing next to them.  (So far, Mike Huckabee has been the exception to that rule so it will be interesting to see what tonight brings from him.)

As you watch tonight, remember these basic truths:   

1.  Social Security and Medicare Are NOT Bankrupt and not in Crisis

Medicare solvency remains greatly improved since passage of health care reform with the Hospital Trust Fund paying full benefits until 2030 which is the same as was projected last year. In 2030, payroll taxes alone are estimated to be sufficient to cover 86 percent of HI costs. Solvency has improved by 13 years from the date that was projected before enactment of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Medicare's actuarial shortfall actually decreased from last year. 

Social Security remains well-funded. With the economy in recovery, Social Security's total income will exceed its expenses by over $9.2 billion and annual income will exceed obligations through 2019. There is nearly $2.79 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $25 billion more than last year and it will continue to grow by payroll contributions, income taxes paid on benefits, and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.

Even if Congress does nothing, and no one believes that will happen, Social Security and Medicare are still not “bankrupt.” The programs will pay reduced benefits once their Trust Fund reserves are depleted.  However, a 14% Medicare benefit cut in 2030 and a 21% Social Security cut in 2034 are not options. That’s why we urge Congress to set aside the crisis rhetoric and focus its attention on benefit adequacy and long-term solvency as proposed in the Social Security 2100 Act

2.  Disability “Crisis” Can be Easily Avoided

Congress has known since 1994 that the Disability Trust Fund would be depleted in 2016, meaning only 81 percent of scheduled benefits will be payable after that point. Rather than make a routine administrative reallocation of income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as Congress has done 11 times before (including 4 times during the Reagan administration), the GOP House has blocked that move.  Conservatives say they will wait until the 11th hour to force broader changes in the Social Security program, rather than simply fix the issue easily today. So if you hear any hand-wringing tonight about the disability “crisis” from Presidential candidates tonight, understand this is a “crisis” of the GOP Congressional leadership’s making.  Also, a subset of this discussion is the myth that the disability program’s solvency issues are due to lazy Americans who are scamming the system.  The truth is disability expenditures have increased primarily due to anticipated demographic trends - as the large number of baby boomers age into the disability-prone years (they turned ages 50 to 68 in 2014), more people become disabled and thus receive benefits.  The increase in full retirement age from 65 to 66 (and to 67 for those born after 1959) has also contributed to the increase in disability expenditures, as people remain on the disability rolls longer before shifting to retirement. Also, it’s not easy to get disability.  80% of initial disability claims are denied.

3. No One Suggests “Doing Nothing”

Claims that supporters of Social Security & Medicare want to “do nothing” is an absurd straw-man argument designed to hide the real truth that conservatives have long supported a cuts-only approach to addressing long-term solvency with little regard to what those cuts actually mean to American families.  From President Bush’s failed privatization campaign to the GOP Budget and many other harmful proposals in between, ensuring that Social Security and Medicare benefits remain adequate for millions of Americans is not the primary goal.  The #1 goal is to cut benefits.  Rather than address the many solvency proposals which don’t rely solely on benefit cuts, GOP candidates have chosen to pretend these plans simply don’t exist, thus the “do nothing” straw-man argument.

4.   Slashing Benefits Isn’t the Only Way to “Save” Social Security and Medicare

When a candidate promises to “save these programs for future generations” by raising the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age, privatizing Social Security, changing the COLA formula and means-testing Social Security while exempting near retirees what they’re actually saying is:  “We know seniors vote so we’ll protect them now and slash future benefits for their children and grandchildren instead.”  This cynical GOP messaging strategy isn’t new.  But it ignores the fact that seniors understand the recession generation will need Social Security and Medicare, particularly as they face high unemployment, wage stagnation and historically high student loan rates.

What You Won't Hear Tonight

Here are a few examples of proposals you won’t hear about tonight: lift the Social Security payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their share, allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs in Part D, reinstitute Part D drug rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers and allow billions in Medicare Advantage overpayments to private insurers to be fully phased out as provided in the ACA.  You can be sure none of these proposals will be offered by GOP Presidential candidates tonight, even though they would save billions and spare current and future retirees, survivors and the disabled from devastating benefit cuts. Poll after poll shows the American people of all ages and political parties oppose cutting benefits in Social Security and Medicare.  They’re also willing to pay more to strengthen the program for future generations.  But you won’t hear that tonight either.

America is the wealthiest nation in the world at the wealthiest point in our history, yet rather than focus on growing income inequality, wage stagnation and the death of the middle-class, conservatives hope to shift voters’ attention away from the true causes of our economic malaise in favor of cutting benefits for “greedy geezers” and “takers” who receive Social Security and Medicare, all the while promising to strengthen the programs by slashing them.

Celebrating Medicare Today and Everyday

At the National Committee, our millions of members and supporters celebrate Medicare everyday.  But for this 50th Anniversary it’s only fitting that our celebration has been bigger, broader and designed to educate and advocate for Medicare’s next 50 years. 

If you haven’t had a chance yet please stop by our 50th Anniversary party online, where you can send a letter to Congress, test your Medicare knowledge and join the celebration as we look forward to Medicare’s Next 50.  

Why Simply Celebrating Medicare's 50th Anniversary Isn't Enough

As we celebrate Medicare’s 50th anniversary this week it’s important to do more than just cut the cake…we must also educate and advocate. That’s because even though the American people clearly understand how vital Medicare and Medicaid are to families, too many politicians (especially those running for the GOP Presidential nod) apparently still don’t get it. 

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote today about these “Zombies Against Medicare,” including their refusal to acknowledge that all the bad things they’ve predicted about Medicare for five decades have never actually happened, Jeb Bush’s promise to end Medicare and especially the Republican Party’s never-ending quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“And then a funny thing happened: the act’s passage was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.” 

Medicare advocates briefed the press today on the importance of this 50th anniversary and the ongoing battle to preserve and expand the program. 

“Anyone who thinks these programs aren’t under threat should just look at where the GOP presidential candidates stand on these issues.  Every prediction made by opponents about these programs…from claiming 'socialism' to 'they won’t work'…have been proven wrong.” Brad Woodhouse, President of Americans United for Change 

“It’s time for GOP leaders to stop threatening us with cuts and repeal, and start proposing truly bold ideas that include benefits expansion, raising the wage cap, enacting an affordable long term care program, shifting to a fully-developed consumer price index for the elderly, and negotiating drug prices. That would be a real platform for real Americans.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO 

As the 2015 Trustees Report release last week shows, Medicare’s health has greatly improved since health care reform was passed.  Not only did the ACA provide improved benefits for seniors its long-term solvency has been extended by 13 years.  Congress should be building on these reforms to improve the program rather than continuing a politically myopic and factually bankrupt quest to “save” Medicare by killing it.

Jeb Bush Says He'll End Medicare

We suppose we should at least give Jeb Bush brownie points for honesty since he was actually caught saying out loud what the GOP has been trying to do Medicare for years, without actually admitting it.

MSNBC first reported on Jeb Bush's comments made to a room full of Koch Brothers supporters:

"We need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits," Bush said. "But we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they're not going to have anything."

Promising to protect current beneficiaries (because according to the standard GOP meme “greedy geezers” only care about their own Social Security and Medicare benefits not what’s left for their kids or grandkids) is a tried and true GOP strategy. Attempting to destroy Medicare piece by piece is also a strategy we’ve already seen tried by conservatives in Congress.  So it’s likely Bush didn’t even realize he was making news.  Vox described it best this way:

“For years now, Republicans in Congress have been unified around a plan to promise continued Medicare benefits to everyone over the age of 55 while phasing out the program for everyone else. This is the famous — or perhaps infamous — Paul Ryan plan for Medicare. But denying that this is what their plan amounts to has been an important part of the political strategy for getting it done. Except Jeb Bush messed up, and in a talk at an Americans for Prosperity event Wednesday night he said that America needs to "phase out" Medicare.

His argument is that once Medicare is phased out, the GOP can offer the 54-and-under set "something," because the alternative will be to get "nothing."

Recall that back in 2011, the GOP whined endlessly about allegations that they wanted to end Medicare, and PolitiFact dubbed the idea that the GOP wants to end Medicare their "lie of the year."

But as Jeb Bush reveals here, it was never a lie of any sort. Conservatives' preferred answer to the challenge of paying for Medicare in the future is to scrap the program, and that idea has gained wider and wider currency in GOP circles in recent years.”

Bush’s comments were chock-full of other seriously flawed assumptions which MSNBC also breaks down including:

  • The “left” hasn’t done anything to help Medicare – Uhh, how about this week’s Trustees Report which confirms (yet again) an additional 13 years of Medicare solvency thanks to healthcare reform (which the GOP would repeal). 
  • Going door-to-door has shown him the American people support phasing out benefits - We’re not sure what doors Bush is knocking on but there’s not a national poll anywhere (legitimate or otherwise) which shows Americans support ending Medicare.   


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