There are two utterly incompatible approaches to the maintenance of social safety nets–and beliefs about the obligation of a society to its most vulnerable members.
On one side are those who recognize the obligation, who see the payment of taxes to support social programs and government services as the “dues” we owe to the “club” we call America. On the other side are those who reject that obligation, who insist that individual citizens (including, presumably, children, the elderly and the disabled) must be personally responsible for their own needs, and to the extent they are unable to do so, that private charity should fill the gap (despite copious evidence that charity is grossly insufficient to the task).
Those in the first category have legitimate differences about how we discharge our obligations to each other, about the efficiency of programs put in place, about the evidence we can reasonably require in order to separate out the truly needy from the merely greedy. But they understand that no society that ignores its neediest citizens can be “great” or even good–let alone stable.
Those in the second category tend to be financially comfortable (or better). Their incentive to ignore reality and the plight of others is rooted in their desire to keep more of what they have and their insistence that they have “earned” their good fortune and other folks could too if they really wanted to.
They are the ones who have controlled Congress. And as Robert Reich has written,
Republicans would love to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. But they can’t, because Social Security and Medicare are among the most popular of all federal programs. Besides, most Americans have been paying into them their whole working lives, and depend on them.
Since any overt attack on these programs would be politically suicidal, the Republicans have decided to do nothing–aggressively– to refrain from the “fixes” and accommodations to economic changes that all such programs require from time to time.
The trustees for Medicare and Social Security – of which I used to be one – say Medicare will run out of money by 2026, three years sooner than last projected, and Social Security will run out in 2034.
But this doesn’t have to be the case.
Here are three easy fixes to Social Security and Medicare that Republicans don’t want you to know about.
First: Raise the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes.
This year, that cap is $128,400, meaning that every dollar earned above $128,400 isn’t subject to Social Security taxes.
As Reich points out, the CEO of a big company making $15 million dollars a year pays Social Security taxes on just $128,400 of that, while the nurse practitioner taking home $100,000 pays Social Security taxes on every dollar of his or her income.
Reich’s second “fix” addresses a situation that most of us find outrageous:
To help rein in Medicare costs, allow the government to use its huge bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.
Every other country negotiates these prices; that we do not is an unconscionable gift to big Pharma, which already benefits from the immense amounts through which taxpayers subsidize research. (Pharma already spends more on advertising, marketing, and lobbying than it does on research, so protests that lower profit margins would curtail research are disingenuous at best.)
Reich’s third “fix” is the least intuitive–and the most intriguing.
Third: To deal with a basic reason why Social Security and Medicare are running out of money, allow more young immigrants into the U.S.
The basic reason why Social Security and Medicare are running out of money is the American population continues to age and live longer – leaving a relatively smaller working population to pay into Social Security and Medicare.
What to do? Allow in more young immigrants. Immigrants and their children are the fastest growing segment of the working population, already contributing billions in payroll taxes every year. Instead of shutting immigrants out, allowing more immigrants into the country will help secure the future of Social Security and Medicare.
I have previously reported on the multiple benefits conferred by immigration; this is another.
If you belonged to a club in which some members refused to pay the dues that maintained the facility and its amenities, you’d terminate their membership. We can’t terminate the citizenship of people who are unwilling to pay their fair share, but we can save Social Security and Medicare. As Reich says,
Raise the cap, negotiate drug prices, and allow in more immigrants. Do these three things and you won’t have to worry about Social Security and Medicare not being there when you need it.