If you are not alarmed by the conversation taking place in Washington about Social Security and Medicare, you are not paying attention. The narrative goes like this: “The elderly hordes are about to descend upon the Social Security and Medicare systems and this will be a budget buster.” Of course we are hearing nothing about the five trillion dollar Iraq war or the multi-trillion dollar Afghanistan war. We are hearing nothing about the massive tax benefits awarded to the upper ten percent income/wealth stratum. We are hearing nothing about the blatant rip off of the Medicare program by pharmaceutical companies.
What we are seeing before our very eyes is a set up for reducing the budget deficit by reducing benefits for the elderly. Here is how it works: set up a commission to study the issue and make recommendations for cost reduction. Politicians like this idea because it takes them off the hook. Senators Gregg (Republican) and Conrad (Democrat) attempted to do just that by introducing a bill that would set up a commission, the recommendations of which would be fast-tracked through congress.
Amongst all kinds of other schemes, this commission could recommend a cap on Medicare benefits, a raise in the age for eligibility for Social Security, increase Medicare premiums, or, even worse, renew the push for privatization of Social Security. Thanks to progressive Democrats in the Senate, this bill did not fly.
President Obama, being upset about the failure of the Judd-Conrad scheme has said that he will set up a commission by executive order. Recommendations of that commission would not carry the weight of a commission legislated into existence. Nevertheless, it is something that we must closely watch.
I would have some questions for a commission – as well as for my senator or congressperson. Where is the 2.7 trillion dollars owed to the Social Security Trust Fund? This is money borrowed by the U.S. Treasury to pay bills resulting from war and to cover for loss of tax revenues due to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. With the return of this money to the SS Trust Fund, there will be no crisis into the foreseeable future.
What would happen to the cost of Medicare if the provision prohibiting negotiation of drug prices in legislation enacting Medicare Part D were to be repealed? Senator Dorgan recently introduced a bill to do just that but lost that vote due to some Democrats joining the Republicans in opposition.
I think we need a commission that will come up with recommendations for getting out of costly wars and for staying out of them in the future. Perhaps another commission could come up with ideas for reforming the tax code. Can you imagine how much tax loop holes and a low capital gains tax is costing the U.S. treasury?