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From the category archives: Retirement

Older Americans Month

Social Security Numbers to be Removed from Medicare Cards

It was one of the National Committee’s Legislative priorities this year and we’re happy to report that Social Security numbers will now be removed from Medicare cards.  As the incidence of identity theft has risen it’s become clear that imprinting more than 50 million benefit cards with Americans’ Social Security numbers on the front put millions at risk.  That’s why we supported legislation which would require the numbers be removed.

But it doesn’t come without a cost.  The New York Times describes the funding:

Congress provided $320 million over four years to pay for the change. The money will come from Medicare trust funds that are financed with payroll and other taxes and with beneficiary premiums.

In his budget for 2016, Mr. Obama requested $50 million as a down payment “to support the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards” — a step that federal auditors and investigators had been recommending for more than a decade.

More than 4,500 people a day sign up for Medicare. In the coming decade, 18 million more people are expected to qualify, bringing Medicare enrollment to 74 million people by 2025.

Medicare now has up to four years to start issuing new numbers on cards for new beneficiaries and four more years to reissue cards for those already in Medicare. Social Security numbers will be replaced with “a randomly generated Medicare beneficiary identifier.”  The details are still being worked out.

Decades of Bad Social Security & Medicare Proposals Rolled into One – Courtesy of Governor Chris Christie

Hyperbole -- fact twisting and sheer omission -- false truths presented by “courageous truth-tellers.”  None of this is really new to American politics.  However, today New Jersey Governor Chris Christie deployed all of these time-worn propaganda techniques to unveil his plan to cut $1 trillion in benefits (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from generations of Americans who will depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

He says it’s all about “fairness.”  However, he proposes not a single dime of new revenue and has no problem with average Americans paying payroll taxes on all of their income while the wealthy do not. 

Apparently, slashing pensions in New Jersey to preserve his no tax pledge simply isn’t enough.  Now he hopes to do the same nationwide.  In spite of his promise to offer the GOP Presidential primary race something new, today’s comments were merely a recitation and doubling-down on the same GOP claims that our nation can’t afford to honor its commitment to America’s workers and future retirees. 

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, sums it up this way:

“The Governor’s plan to means-test Social Security, cutting off some Americans and transitioning the program from an earned benefit to welfare has long been the goal of those who oppose social insurance programs. It seems the Governor acknowledges that his flagging Presidential campaign needed a jolt because today’s speech was far more about burnishing Governor Christie’s conservative credentials than offering new proposals that could help America’s workers and retirees. He certainly isn’t showing bold leadership by claiming we must cut middle-class benefits, while protecting tax expenditures benefiting huge corporations and the wealthy.  That’s been the GOP position for a very long time. Today Governor Christie joins a long line of conservative politicians who hope to convince voters they are “courageous truth-tellers” when in truth their goal is to dismantle the very programs which have kept millions from poverty.

The majority of Americans – of all ages, no matter their political party -- opposes cutting already modest benefits and is willing to pay more to boost the program. They understand Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs nor should they be.  Getting any GOP Presidential candidate to acknowledge that fact takes true political courage. But unfortunately that’s not the ‘red meat’ the GOP’s conservative base expects to hear nor the truth candidates like Governor Christie are willing to tell.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

While he claims “no one” will talk about cutting benefits like he will, the fact is, the past decade has seen numerous attacks on the programs from Presidents, Presidential commissions, Congressional “Gangs of 6” and too many legislative proposals to even list here.  Senate Governor Christie is merely the latest in a growing list of GOP Presidential candidates who all promote the same “strengthen = slash” approach.  They tout their protection of poorer seniors while proposing benefit cuts, cost sharing and means testing that will impact millions of poor and middle-class beneficiaries.  Each candidate also follows the conservative-crafted playbook which promises current retirees (who consistently vote) will be protected from cuts, instead targeting their children and grandchildren (who aren’t thinking about retirement yet) for even smaller benefits.

 Many GOP Candidates – Same Social Security & Medicare Approach
  • Senator Ted Cruz supports privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into “Coupon Care”, raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  Each of these proposals would cut benefits well below the current $1,200 average monthly benefit
  •  Senator Rand Paul has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supports allowing people to opt out of the program.  He also supports raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, Social Security privatization, and raising seniors’ Medicare premiums and copayments.
  • Senator Marco Rubio supports privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  He considers current benefits “generous” and supports the GOP/Ryan budget which turns Medicare into “Coupon Care”.

None of these candidates have expressed support for lifting the payroll tax cap so that wealthy Americans pay the same rate as everyone else or proposals addressing income adequacy for millions of beneficiaries of all ages.

Now, that would be a true act of political courage.

 

 

Support for Expanding Social Security Grows & Right-Wingers Panic

This week has seen a wave of attacks by conservative columnists and think-tankers outraged that the call to Boost Social Security benefits is gaining traction on Capitol Hill (it’s already widely supported by Americans of all political persuasions nationwide). The shifting political tide was most recently apparent when an amendment to expand Social Security benefits was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and supported by the majority of Senate Democrats.  That Congressional support mobilized a host of anti-Social Security writers, with libertarian Ann Ryand fan Megan McArdle leading the pack, to pen feverish anti-Social Security tomes.  Each of them following the same conservative talking points portraying Social Security as welfare, seniors as “greedy geezers” and demanding benefit cuts to pay for billionaire tax cuts they consider off-limits for reform. 

NCPSSM’s Equal Time details McArdle’s Bloomberg piece:    

The Left Gets It Wrong About Social Security

Megan McArdle, Columnist

McArdle’s disdain for Social Security is sprinkled throughout her error-laden story.  Here are just a few samples (emphasis is ours):

 

“no one, left or right, really wants to take on our vast army of retirees...”

 

“progressives who are ideologically opposed to shrinking the welfare state...”

 

“It is supremely irrelevant whether that money flows through the "trust fund" or Uncle Sam holds an annual ceremony in which the trustees are handed one of those giant checks they present to lottery winners...”

 

“Social Security's great political strength is the perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits...”

 

 “The only reason that the system isn't in the red already is the net interest the government is paying itself on the bonds in the trust fund.” 

 

 

As a columnist, McArdle is paid to express her opinions.  However, as an employee of a “news organization” she should be expected to at least build her case based on facts.  As the Los Angeles Times correctly assessed, “It's rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security in one place.”  So much so, we can’t even begin to fact-check all of it; however, we’ll address the first four quotes listed above as classic examples of how conservatives consistently choose language describing Social Security as if it’s a “welfare state” where “vast army of retirees” are lucky enough to be “handed...giant checks” like lottery winners.  After all, it’s only a “perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits.” Of course, the truth for millions of Americans who have actually worked and paid into Social Security for a lifetime (not just “perceived” that they did) does not resemble the political and verbal mythology created by conservatives like McArdle in any way. 

 

The claim that Social Security’s financing is actually worse than it appears because of some sort of accounting gimmick by which “the government is paying itself” shows either complete  ignorance of how the Trust Fund works or willful misrepresentation of the facts.  Simply put, the federal government pays interest on the money it borrows from American workers’ payroll tax contributions to Social Security.  That’s not the same as “paying itself.”  It’s a legal obligation we owe to all bond holders.  We also do this for the bonds in Warren Buffett and Pete Peterson’s portfolios, so why do conservatives never treat that as somehow suspect?  While defaulting on our debt to Pete Peterson or China would never be allowed (nor should it)...refusing to pay back America’s retirees is not only acceptable to conservatives but exactly the solution alleged “fiscal hawks” want Congress to adopt. 

Apparently, just one attack on the Boost Social Security movement wasn’t enough so Bloomberg posted a second piece, written by National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the very next day (followed by yet another McArdle article later that afternoon).  Sensing the panic here?

Here’s Richard Eskow’s Huffington Post analysis of Ponnuru’s version of the anti-Social Security playbook:

“...we're taken on a wild ride that includes misperceptions about the financing of social insurance, the mischaracterization of Social Security as an anti-poverty program, and the citation of a methodologically flawed study from the American Enterprise Institute which incorrectly ascribes all sorts of economic evils - including "reducing work, saving, and even birth rates" - to Social Security.

But then, the anti-Social Security crowd has been playing by the same rules for decades: Ignore the needs and wishes of the majority, mislead the public about the fiscal facts and your opponents' arguments, and stigmatize the elderly (a cohort which most of us will eventually join) as a morally flawed "special interest."

Not content to let Bloomberg News have all the fun, the Washington Post’s editorial board piled on today adding yet another “cut Social Security” oped to their long list of similar screeds, claiming support of the Boost movement is just “pandering to seniors.”

“Of course, there’s nothing particularly original about the progressives’ campaign, either politically or policy-wise. Pandering to the elderly may be especially urgent for Democrats now, given that the formerly reliably blue 65-and-older set has evolved into a Republican constituency in the past decade, according to Gallup . But buying votes with Social Security promises is a hoary ploy whose master practitioner was none other than President Richard M. Nixon.”

The Post then goes on to claim there is no retirement crisis, the rich can’t afford to be taxed so much and seniors are actually doing quite well, thank you very much.  According to the Washington Post, supporting Social Security means you’re pandering to seniors (conveniently ignoring the fact that millions of children and people with disabilities of all ages also receive benefits).  But why doesn’t the Washington Post ever describe those opposed to cutting even a penny from trillions of dollars in tax expenditures for corporations as pandering to the 1%? 

Why?  Because that’s definitely not in the anti-Social Security playbook. 

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