COMMON SENSE

As I write, I contemplate not receiving my Social Security next month. President Obama and congressional leaders will likely go down to the wire to solve the nation’s debt problem. At that, they may not reach an accord—or any meaningful one. Some thoughts:

• Republicans anguish about “entitlements.” What a misleading word! Others aren’t entitled to put their hands in my pocket. But what is my responsibility to help those in need? The Jewish concept of tzedakah refers not to charity but to justice. “Tzedek, tzedek, tir’dof—justice, justice you shall purse”—commands Deuteronomy 16:18. The Rabbis taught that the community must provide for members in need as a matter of justice. Thus Jewish communal leaders had the power to tax their members not only to support synagogues, hospitals and cemeteries but also students and the poor. Republicans refuse to acknowledge government’s obligation to maintain the public good with tax revenues. Democrats wear their own blinders. Maimonides wrote that the highest form of tzedakah is helping someone start a business and become self-supporting. Promoting business really does create jobs. Interesting reading: Michael Walzer’s article, “On Humanitarianism,” July/August 2011 Foreign Affairs.

• The AARP is running TV commercials urging that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid be taken off the table during discussions. I gave up my AARP membership long ago precisely because the organization refuses to concede the existence of middle ground—means testing.

• Nancy Pelsoi (D-California) also opposes talking about entitlements. Why? Perhaps Ms. Pelosi believes she cannot regain the Speaker’s post without pandering to the far left of the Democratic party—which is her normal position. News flash: I voted for myself rather than Mrs. Pelosi in the 2008 election.

• Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would never win my vote. Am I the only one put off by his smugness? He comes off as George Will without the intellect. And what about McConnell’s statement that Mr. Obama should cave to the Republicans because the 2010 election swept Republicans into power in the House? After the 2008 presidential election, McConnell announced that his primary goal was to oppose Obama and see him defeated in 2012. Hadn’t we just had an election?

• Finally, a July 13 Gallup poll revealed that eighty percent of Americans believe that increased revenue should be part of the deficit solution. Yet a Republican member of the House—forgive me for not remembering his name—declared on PBS’ NewsHour this week that he would oppose any increase in revenue, including closing tax loopholes! Niall Ferguson has it right in this week’s Newsweek regarding all those folks indignant over taxes. “In a rational world, electorates would recognize the need both to reduce entitlements and to increase revenue. But indignation isn’t rational.”

As to my Social Security payment, I’ll live quite well without it, thank you. Senior is not a synonym for impoverished. A ten or fifteen percent cut? A boost in Medicare premiums? Won’t hurt at all. There are many Americans with substantial retirement incomes who can easily survive such a reduction so that others in need can keep a roof over their heads and all that goes with it. Common sense? Sure. But all too commonly ignored.

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6 Comments


  1. Ron Laupheimer
    Jul 15, 2011

    Much of what you said makes total sense. The Republican position on the debt and taxes just does not make sense. The words “tax increase” is anathema to them. But that is exactly what we need for those who have benefited so well under the current system.

    I just saw two graphs that tell the story much better than I can express. The first one describes how much of the country’s so-called “discretionary” spending is tied up in military spending–the number is so high (considerably over 50%) that I cannot remember the exact number. The second graph shows how much of the public debt is accounted for as a result of (1) the Bush-era tax cuts and (2) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in comparison to (3) the economic downturn, (4) TART, Fannie and Freddie and (5) recovery measures. By 2019, half of our total debt will be caused by the first two events. However, the defense department budget and tax cuts are off the table for consideration of the national debt problem say the Republicans, but Social Security and Medicare cuts are OK say the Republicans and our President. How does that make any sense???? What a wonderful country we live in! An early Shabbat Shalom everyone.


  2. Ira Fateman
    Jul 15, 2011

    I know you will not suffer as a result of missing SS payment but a significant % of American’s over the age of 62 depend on their ss checks. One is my daughter who will not be able to pay her rent without her SS disability check. And she works 3 days a week to earn the money she needs above the very low government support she receives because she is disabled.


    • David
      Jul 15, 2011

      Ira: I don’t want to touch your daughter’s payments. They provide her with the basics. But I do think a retiree with an income of $100,000, $200,000, $500,000—pick a number—can stand a reduction of $100 or $250 a month in Social Security payments and pay a little more for their Medicare programs. Is that really a problem? David


  3. RWE
    Jul 16, 2011

    David,
    It seems to me that means-testing Social Security would be a quick way to weaken or even kill the program. As it is now, everyone from Rockefeller to Ragpicker is entitled to full benefits. One simply goes down and signs-up; and he is not required to prove penury or even need. The process doesn’t feel like applying for welfare. But means test the system, tell the middle and upper classes that they are not entitled to benefits or that their benefits will be reduced because they have been successful, or lucky, or frugal and their support for the system will soon weaken or evaporate. The voting-class would come to see Social Security as just a federal welfare system dispensing benefits which it could not get. I think that the politically shrewd thing to do would be to continue giving everyone the full amount to which his past earnings entitle him and then use the income tax system, with higher income taxes on the wealthy, as the instrument of income redistribution.


    • David
      Jul 16, 2011

      A point worth pondering since all—well, most—Americans need to get on board. However, this would necessitate reducing deficits only by increasing revenues rather than taking a balanced cuts-and-revenues approach. I would point out that Social Security is not a savings program. No one has an account on which to withdraw. And I’m not sure that the wealthy receive proportionally more than the poor in their monthly payments. The key is that putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table does not mean dictating terms but engaging in discussion that can and should be rational and thoughtful, taking seriously opposing views. Further rounds of discussion might produce a mutually acceptable accord. Unfortunately, what we don’t have in Washington now is a discussion of this nature.


  4. Carolyn Power
    Jul 16, 2011

    What a mess.

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