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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