Sunday, July 11, 2010

Postpone Retirement Age Til 70? Fuggedaboutit!

When one reads and sees impressions and notions about "floating ideas" - watch out! Generally this portends some horrific new social or economic policy designed to screw the hoi polloi- such as the homeless, elderly, the unemployed or other vulnerable groups, especially if the "floating" originates with the political elites. The latest comes on news (Denver Post, 'A Shift Toward Payout at 70', June 11, p. 1a) that "ideas are being floated to raise the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 70". The putative basis (as if we didn't know) is to "confront the inescapable challenge of the nation's enormous debt". Odd, because, above all , Social Security didn't cause that debt!

Indeed, Social Security has been the full bore"AMT" for congress to hide the size of deficits by unscrupulously raiding its monies since the Reagan administration. Reagan did it to disguise the magnitude of the deficits he was engendering with his wanton "defense" expenditures (think $75 hammers, and $3,400 toilets) , and Bush Jr. later used it along with a willing congress to reduce the deficits created by two military invasions and occupations, and three tax cuts.

By contrast, Social Security is the only major federal program that has actually generated more revenue, by virtue of the payroll or FICA tax. So why go after it? Well, because it's low hanging fruit, or so the congress critters assert, and the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has fed into this zeitgeist with its reports.

By the end of this year, the CBO predicts a debt equal to 62% of the gross domestic product, the highest since the Korean War. Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader has stated (D. Post, ibid.)

"We're lying to ourselves and our children if we say we can maintain our current levels of entitlement spending, defense spending and taxation without bankrupting our country".

Fair enough, but why use a draconian solution like jacking up the full benefits retirement age to 70? Is Hoyer or any of the other politicos aware that a sizeable chunk of African American males will not live to collect it? Two-thirds die before reaching the age of 65. In addition, as Barbara Kennelly of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare notes, "not everyone can work until they're 70".

More to the point, the scourge of deliberate age discrimination continues and companies still feel they have carte blanche to ditch anyone over 50, and replace them with young workers who won't command the same high salaries, or benefits.

Given how the risk shift has already greatly imperiled Americans and their economic security, the LAST thing we should be doing is considering raising the retirement age to access full benefits. Before even remotely going there, a much more feasible and fair solution is to simply raise the FICA cap from where it is to about $500,000. This would cover nearly all the alleged shortfall expected in Social Security before 2040. (We also need to enforce the -ironically titled - "Budget Enforcement Act of 1991" - to keep Social Security monies apart from general revenue!)

One can also cast a sharp eye on the two other revenue drains Hoyer mentioned, the current taxation rates and military spending. In the case of the first, we already know that ALL the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire at the end of this year. If not, the deficit will grow by five fold as the GAO also noted (this incidentally, was originally in the context of what would occur IF the Bush tax cuts were NOT allowed to expire - and had nada to do with SS!) Why isn't this being discussed more? Maybe because the lily -livered Democrats don't wish to be accused (in an election year) of "raising taxes to the highest level in history" by the Repukes. So rather than craft the rhetorical firepower to knock that falsehood down (since repealing a pre- existing tax cut is not the same as a tax hike) they roll over.

As for military or "defense" spending so called, don't even get me started. Last year alone, the U.S. spent 54 cents of every dollar or $1.44 TRILLION, on military toys and accessory waste. This year the military will get 48% of the budget or $1.389 trillion and in excess of the next 45 nations combined! But who is looking at that or of making serious cuts to this revenue vampire? No one! I certainly don't hear many Dems talking about it! Even Barney Frank (D-MA) only talks (as he did on Keith Olbermann two nights ago) of checking some major weapons boondoggles, but not cutting the defense budget at least in half, as it ought to be.

In addition, the U.S. continues to spend $12 billion a month on the Iraq and Afghan miltiary adventures, and has already spent nearly $1 trillion on these since 2003. I hear talk now from the pundits that we're likely to be in both places at least five more years. WHY is no one addressing that, or seriously discussing the need for pay-go when the next expenditure legislation comes up? If they can do it for domestic spending, why not for military? (And don't anyone tell me we're "fighting for our freedoms" or other horse pockey, because that dog won't hunt).

The Afghan enterprise has already been shown to be a total monumental waste of precious national resources, including lives. There isn't one damned argument or excuse that can justify remaining there even another month. The British and the Russians had to learn that lesson when it was too late, so why can't we learn from opposed to having to re-learn those dreadful lessons? (As Philosopher George Santayana aptly noted:"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it".)

Worse, in all this wasteful squalor, even Donald Rumsfeld admitted several years ago that the Pentagon couldn't account for $2.5 trillion it was funded. Meanwhile, former defense analyst Chuck Spinney says there is $1.1 trillion unaccounted for. Money that could easily have supported a genuine health care plan as opposed to a foil for exploitation by insurance companies.

Seniors everywhere need to watch carefully as this "trial balloon" to advance the full benefits age is launched, then let every one of their reps hear from them - first hand, with letters, emails or phone calls. I am doing my part by contributing to a full pressure campaign by the NCPSSM to nip this execrable strategy in the bud.

Hopefully, the congressional "bipartisans" floating this crap will come to their senses and not have to be chased down city streets by screaming, outraged seniors- the way Dan Rostenkowski was in 1992 after proposing major Medicare cuts!

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