For the second time this year, a top Senate Republican has suggested that Social Security and Medicare should be removed from the automatic funding process that ensures that people who have paid into the systems get what comes to them, and instead are discarded for regular Congressional re-approval. They don’t seem to have taken into account the deep dysfunction that prevents most legislation from being passed today – thanks mainly to their own party. Worse, maybe she to have it considered.
When conservatives talk about “rights,” they pretend it’s charity. In fact, despite their problems, both programs are critical to millions of older Americans who have paid and are entitled to them their entire working lives.
Social Security has long been the essential third rail of politics – touch it and you’re dead. It is one of the most popular programs not only in the current administration, but also in the history of the government. It deserves its popularity. When Franklin Roosevelt ushered in it in the 1930s (after fierce Republican opposition), the goal was to end the then-general specter of poverty that faced most Americans in old age. It has worked spectacularly. Unlike most government programs, it is largely self-funded by future retirees. Medicare, which came on the market in the 1960s to address medical care for retirees, works on a similar process.
Keeping the programs properly funded is a challenge as Americans live longer, but a much more manageable challenge than America would face if those benefits were withdrawn or significantly reduced. That’s why politicians never launch frontal attacks on either program. But the Republicans—who as a party have never quite settled on these successful experiments in quasi-socialism—always offer privatization programs and other so-called “reforms” that would ultimately undermine the benefits.
sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, proposed early this year that “all federal legislation” be halted after five years, reasoning that “if a law is worth enforcing, Congress will can take it again.” Critics immediately pointed out that by definition this would include Social Security and Medicare.
In a recent interview, Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., went further. Johnson complained that those who qualify for Social Security and health care — because they paid into the programs, remember — “just get it, no matter the cost.” He said both programs must be re-approved annually in Congress to get their funding.
This is one agency that, thanks to the intransigence of the GOP, threatens somewhat regularly to shut down the entire federal government instead of approving routine debt ceiling hikes. The idea of subjecting seniors to an annual floor debate about whether their monthly Social Security checks and Medicare benefits will continue is nothing short of horrifying. That some Senate Republicans would repeatedly threaten to destabilize these grassroots programs should give pause to anyone who thinks the GOP should take back control of Congress this year.
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