It might seem like ancient political history to younger readers, but once upon a time there was a Republican Speaker of the House named Newt Gingrich and a Democratic President named Bill Clinton. A new book by Steven Gillon, The Pact, claims that the two ostensibly bitter enemies made a promising but ultimately abortive attempt to reform Social Security and Medicare.
Every now and again, I stumble across an article that just gets me going. Today was one such day, and this was one such article. Robert Samuelson takes aim at the baby boomers and their entitlement mentality in the Washington Post:
As someone born in late 1945, I say this to the 76 million or so subsequent baby boomers and particularly to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, our generation’s leading politicians: Shame on us. We are trying to rob our children and grandchildren, putting the country’s future at risk in the process. On one of the great issues of our time, the social and economic costs of our retirement, we have adopted a policy of selfish silence…
…It’s no secret that the 65-and-over population will double by 2030 (to almost 72 million, or 20 percent of the total population), but hardly anyone wants to face the implications:
- By comparison, other budget issues, including the notorious earmarks, are trivial. In 2005, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the main programs for the elderly) cost $1.034 trillion, twice the amount of defense spending and more than two-fifths of the total federal budget. These programs are projected to equal about three-quarters of the budget by 2030, if it remains constant as a share of national income.
- Preserving present retirement benefits automatically imposes huge costs on the young — costs that are economically unsound and socially unjust. The tax increases required by 2030 could hit 50 percent, if other spending is maintained as a share of national income. Or much of the rest of government (from defense to national parks) would have to be shut down or crippled. Or budget deficits would balloon to quadruple today’s level…
No need to fear, however, because our brave and principled political leaders are stepping up to the plate… and refusing to do anything:
Any reform plan would have to make its way through the Senate Finance Committee, which will be chaired in the new Congress by Montana Democrat Max Baucus. He’s a guy the White House thought at one point might be a vote in favor of Bush’s plan to carve out personal savings accounts as a way to make Social Security a better deal for younger workers.
But I have to say that a brief chat I had late yesterday afternoon with Baucus didn’t imbue me with much confidence. I asked him flat out if there would be major Social Security reform in this new Congress. Baucus slowly and rather unenthusiastically replied, “Oh, I don’t know. The trust fund doesn’t reach zero until 2042.”
What about Medicare reform?
The federal government should join the state of Massachusetts in enacting universal health coverage, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over numerous health issues.
Kennedy’s home state is the first to require everyone to have health insurance, just as drivers must have automobile coverage.
Kennedy has his own version of what universal health coverage would look like. He wants to extend Medicare to all.
Well, that should help to keep the program solvent and affordable for many years to come! Although, to be fair, perhaps Senator Kennedy isn’t ignoring reality, and is actually proposing this expansion of Medicare in order to speed the imminent demise of the program and force a crisis which he can then solve…
So we’re left with a looming crisis that everyone knows is coming but no one with the ability to do anything about it will acknowledge it for fear of the political consequences. And in the meantime, I get to look at my paycheck and see hundreds of dollars fall away every month into programs that will be long gone by the time I would get to the age of eligibility. I try not to think what my 401k or IRA would look like right now if I had just been able to funnel that money in that direction; that way lies anger, and you know what Yoda said about anger: It eventually leads to suffering.
But why should I wallow in anger and self-pity? This is America, the Land of Opportunity – and have I got an opportunity for all of you baby boomers out there! Since you’re going to be helping yourselves to a generous portion of my money over the coming years (barring some sort of political miracle), I’d like to give you the opportunity to say thanks in a tangible way: by contributing to the Fund for Redistribution and Entitlement Equality/Retirement Income Doubling Enterprise (or FREE RIDE for short), a new initiative that I’ve set up to ensure that the boomers have the same opportunity to contribute to retirement security that my generation has. Well, not quite the same – it’s voluntary, whereas my income is confiscated – but still, I have to believe that you’re just as concerned with my retirement security as you are with yours, right?
Just make your check out to me and send them care of the Acton Institute (the address is here), and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you’ve helped to ensure the retirement security of at least one future senior.