Give it a tune-up, not an overhaul

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

I see on the R-C News-Herald website that 65 percent of local respondents think President Bush’s plan to overhaul Social Security is a bad idea.

Good. I’m glad to see that most people still have good sense. While Social Security might need a tweak to ensure that it’s around fifty years from now, it does not require the gutting that President Bush and the neocons have in mind for it.

Even Alan Greenspan, a pretty stodgy conservative, urges caution in changes to the Social Security system. I’m certainly no expert on Social Security, but from what I have read it seems to me that Bush’s preliminary proposal sounds insane.

The current system is still making more money than it’s paying out and is estimated to continue doing so for another 13 years. If those projections hold, even after more money is going out than coming in, cuts in benefits won’t be needed until 2042 – about four decades from now or two generations.

Yes, the sooner tweaks come the less drastic they need to be to save Social Security as we know it without benefit cuts, but the only thing required is to tweak it. Bush is proposing to completely overhaul it and plunge the nation into even deeper debt than it now is to do so.

Estimates are that the country will have to add $2 trillion in debt to the already skyrocketing national debt just to implement Bush’s proposal. And that just gets the ball rolling. Then you start taking incoming payments out of Social Security at a much faster rate, thus destroying the present system in probably half the time that it now has left.

You’re left with a nation in deep debt, older workers with nothing to count on when they retire, and younger workers relying on, of all things, a risky proposition for having any retirement funds available for them when their time comes.

I read yesterday that Bush is even considering tax hikes to make the proposed system work. Bush considering tax hikes? What’s the world coming to!

Actually if Bush does raise Social Security taxes on those making above $90,000 a year and lets his tax cut on the wealthiest five percent of Americans expire, Social Security would become solvent for the foreseeable future, according to a former head of the Social Security Administration.

Philosophically, I’m of the opinion that the easiest fix is usually best. If your car won’t start in the morning, you don’t begin your repair by dismantling the engine. You start with simple, obvious things – battery, battery terminals, etc. – before you start breaking things down.

What the nation needs to do is resolve to keep Social Security as it now operates and put into place the easiest, least expensive things that will keep it in place. Bush and the neocons went straight to the shop to completely overhaul the current system for one that may or may not work and that would certainly cost significantly more money.

But the problem is one of philosophy. The neocons are not adopting the tear it down approach because they genuinely want to have a Social Security program in place to ensure that senior citizens can live in relative comfort during their retirement years.

President Roosevelt created Social Security because elderly people lived short, brutal and poverty-filled lives once they could no longer work. Back in the &uot;good old days&uot; (according to conservatives) there were no retirement accounts for workers and the government offered no help for people who were destitute because they were too old to work for a living.

They lived in poverty, couldn’t get proper medical care, lost everything they earned during their lifetimes, and died penniless. Social Security was implemented to ensure that workers would have some income – money they had paid into the system – when they retired.

The neocons want to return us to a world in which it’s every person for him or her self. No government help for anyone. If you don’t have the money or help from relatives or friends after you retire, then you die sick and alone.

That may seem overly harsh, but that’s the truth of it. Bush and the neocons aren’t taking these drastic steps because they want to save Social Security and ensure that senior citizens can have some dignity in their retirement years. They want to destroy Social Security and every other &uot;entitlement&uot; program people have come to count on.

I’m not a fan of the big brother government model that conservatives say progressives desire, but I do think we as a people have certain obligations to those who have made this nation strong, either through direct service such as the military or simply by contributing to the economy by working, making money, spending money, etc.

Let’s review. Bush proposes increasing the national debt by $2 trillion, dismantling a system that just needs a tune-up, and wants to implement an untried theory that threatens the future well being of senior citizens.

Who gains? Young people? Do you seriously think most young people are going to take as much out of their paychecks as is currently being taken by Social Security and invest those monies in stocks that will ultimately make them rich when it comes time for their own retirement?

If you really believe that, I can give you a real good deal on a bridge in Brooklyn. Most young people are going to spend their money. They’re going to spend it raising their families, buying homes, giving their spouses and children the best medical care, and providing them with all they need and all they want.

When they’re finished doing that, they might think about saving something for retirement. Sure, some young people will save and save and save and be very well off when it comes to retirement.

Most of them, however, are going to save the very minimum they’re forced to pay and will reach retirement age with virtually nothing and with no Social Security program to keep them from being destitute, just as their great-great-great-grandparents were at the turn of the 19th Century when the life expectancy was somewhere in the 50s.

We’ve got to oppose Bush’s plan and we’ve got to do what is right for senior citizens today and for the senior citizens of tomorrow and for the senior citizens of 50 years from now. This is a bad idea that I hope Americans will soundly reject.