As I listen to the talk from born-again fiscal conservatives, I am hearing that Social Security threatens to undermine our republic to the point of collapse. Benefits must be cut or our economy will sink like a stone, the story goes.
I don't buy that, and here is why.
Somehow, the challenges facing Social Security have somehow become conflated with the federal budget deficit. Not so. Social Security does not pay for national defense, environmental protection, or any other program in what I will stipulate is a bureaucracy grown too large.
By and large, the same bunch urging belt-tightening on senior citizens today were also the ones who decided it would be fiscally prudent to to pay for two wars on the other side of the planet and a brand-new Homeland Security Department spending spree with tax cuts. This is what caused the federal deficit.
So much for fiscally conservative congressional oversight.
And as long as I'm ranting, I haven't seen or heard of any reduction in the cost of compliance reporting, which small business owners will tell you drives them nuts and robs them of productive hours. I hear the paperwork is even worse now with all the national security add-ons.
Let's move on from wars to bailouts. Remember when Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson brought in the original request for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout on three printed pages? Not enough pages, Congress said. So the Treasury Department added some pages and the banks got their money. Oh, such terrible legislation, cried the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But necessary.
Democrats, bless 'em, gave us Cash for Clunkers and a health care bill that basically will extend health care coverage by forcing people to pay for private insurance - a transfer of wealth from individuals and small businesses to corporations that do not provide health care. And the Democratic majority was unable to pass anything but a timid and tepid stimulus package, too small to defibrillate the economy, but big enough to increase the deficit.
How about those agricultural subsidies that pay landowners not to farm?
Given their track record, I do not want any of these mathematically challenged legislators on either side of the aisle screwing around with a program that works. It now seems odd that Social Security, a completely separate and self-sustaining system, should go under the knife. We have all known for decades that the Baby Boomers would begin drawing out their investment starting now, so let's not pretend to be startled and push for any panic legislation. We've had enough of that.
Finally, I don't like the semantic trickery of calling Social Security an "entitlement" and its payments "benefits." It makes it sound like something unearned. After seeing FICA deductions on almost every pay stub for the past 46 years, the word I'd use is "repayment."
I have had no complaint about paying Social Security tax to support my parents' generation. I have no complaint about seeing my property and income taxes pay for the education of the next generation. If our society has reached the point where we cannot see beyond the quick buck or the quick fix, then, in truth, I don't think that history will judge our experiment in democracy kindly.