With the scribbled ink on December’s GOP tax legislation barely dry, congressional Republicans are promising to target Americans’ earned benefits this year. House Speaker Paul Ryan told a Wisconsin radio interviewer, “We’re going to have to get back… at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” Ryan went on to make a number of dubious claims, all to justify future benefit cuts for working Americans, millions of whom already are struggling to make ends meet.
Of course, Ryan has been using this rationale for years. The difference now is that he and his party finally have the power realize their long-held dreams of gutting programs that Americans have paid into for their entire working lives. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is not the firewall against changes to Social Security and Medicare that he promised to be during the campaign.
In opposing these attempts to undermine Social Security and Medicare, it’s important for us to continue to correct a few of Ryan’s mendacious fairy tales about these programs:
Social Security and Medicare are the ‘major drivers’ of the debt
This is a canard budget hawks often use to attack earned benefits. The truth is that Social Security and Medicare Part A are self-funded through workers’ payroll contributions. They do not contribute a penny to the debt. However, one of the biggest drivers of the debt moving forward will be the Trump/GOP tax cut.
The only way to keep these programs solvent is to privatize and cut benefits
Without action from Congress to shore up their finances, Social Security and Medicare Part A will not be able to pay full benefits after 2034 and 2029, respectively. Budget hard-liners insist that the only way to keep these programs solvent is to privatize them and cut benefits. In truth, there are modest and manageable measures that Congress could implement to ensure solvency for most of the rest of this century — without cutting benefits.
The government should get out of the health care business
As part of his justification for gutting Medicare, Ryan claims that the government cannot deliver health care as efficiently as the private sector. This flies in the face of fact. Medicare’s administrative costs are only 2 percent of its operating budget. The average overhead for private insurers is closer to 20 percent.
These changes will only affect future seniors
Ryan likes to say that his plans to gut earned benefits won’t impact current seniors, only people his age or younger. That proposition is disingenuous in two major ways. First of all, future generations of retirees will no more be able to withstand benefit cuts than today’s seniors, as middle-class incomes are forecast to remain stagnant for the foreseeable future. Secondly, today’s seniors actually care about their children’s — and grandchildren’s — financial and health security.
As Ryan and his colleagues try their hardest to undo the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society, it is wise to remember why Social Security and Medicare were enacted in the first place. Too many seniors were living in poverty, and people over 65 either couldn’t find – or couldn’t afford – health insurance. These programs are just as necessary today as they were at the time of their creation.
BY: MAX RICHTMAN, WASHINGTON
7:15 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018
Editor’s note: Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.