Social Security is on the brink of collapse. The Republican Party does not touch it.


If you follow political debates long enough, arguments you may never hear can become key components of the two parties’ political platforms. That’s certainly the case when it comes to some Republicans and their new “never touch Social Security and Medicare” stance.

Last weekend, newly elected Senator J. D. Vance (R–OH) tweeted that former President Donald Trump was 100 percent correct when he demanded that “under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut one dime from Medicare or Social Security.” Vance’s tweet came amid the fight over the debt ceiling, but that’s a position Trump has long held.

Now, in truth, the GOP’s well-intentioned engagement in the overall debt ceiling debate is limited by the short window of time Congress has to raise the ceiling, virtually ruling out credible reforms to Medicare or Social Security. Reforming these two programs will take time and require bipartisan action. However, this reality is no reason to argue that the benefits of the programs should never be compromised.

I can’t wait to hear the GOP’s grand plan to “don’t touch Social Security and Medicare” to eliminate $116 trillion in deficits over 30 years – or 6 percent of US GDP – in two programs. No action by Congress means no money to pay for all the benefits. That means huge cuts that will hit low-income seniors who really depend on the programs.

Of course, if Vance and his cronies insist on not touching benefits, they could close the Social Security and Medicare deficits with huge tax hikes. For Social Security alone, if the trust fund runs out, they’ll have to accept an immediate increase in the payroll tax from 12.4 percent to 15.64 percent — or nearly 25 percent. Add to that the tax increases needed for Medicare, and then repeat the exercise over the years to make up the entire deficit.

Not that we didn’t warn the politicians that these troubles were brewing. Back in 2000, around the time I started working on fiscal issues, experts were already warning that the Social Security trust fund would run out of assets by 2037, leading to painful cuts in benefits. Today, the situation has gotten even worse, with the current trust fund expiring in 2035, along with any possible hope of solving the problem.

In other words, these problems should not surprise anyone. When Social Security began, life expectancy was lower. In 1950, there were more than 16 workers for each beneficiary. This ratio is now below three workers per pensioner and will be only 2.3 workers per pensioner by 2035. Add to this trend decades of vote-buying by politicians by extending benefits beyond input payroll taxes, and you have a veritable financial crisis.

That’s why it’s so troubling that many GOP representatives refuse to inform a public that has been brainwashed for years with bogus soundbites like “You’ve earned Social Security benefits, so you’re entitled to the promised benefits” or “There’s an account in your name.” Such misinformation made it very difficult to seriously discuss the reform.

There’s no doubt that retirees deserve to be treated fairly, but the facts are that the Supreme Court ruled in 1960 that workers have no legally binding right to Social Security benefits, and if Congress cuts benefits by even, say, 50 percent, it can do so because regardless of how much one paid into the program. It will not come to that, but the ruling remains in force. It is also a fiction that the workers earned all the promised benefits – they did not. That’s partly because current retirees are paid from taxes on current workers, not from savings from payroll taxes that retirees paid while they were working.

To say that touching Social Security and Medicare is magical. Even more surprising, many of the same Republicans want to eliminate these two programs while still putting Medicaid on the line. Medicaid also needs to be reformed, but at least this program serves poor people. In contrast, older adults receiving Social Security and Medicare today are overrepresented in the highest income quintile, and younger Americans are overrepresented in the lowest income quintile. So these guys want to cut Medicaid benefits for poor people while subsidizing relatively rich boomers with taxes taken from relatively poor young people. Oh.

The transformation of the Republican Party into the party of big and fiscally reckless government is proceeding at a rapid pace.

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