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.