Social Security ‘Reform’

Reprinted from The East Hampton Star


Dear David:

None of us should forget that Donald Trump campaigned very loudly on an explicit promise not to touch anyone’s Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, and with tens of millions of recipients’ benefits now under attack, we will learn whether this promise, like so many others he barked over the last 18 months, is destined to the dustbin of history.

Without any public explanation, especially curious in light of Mr. Trump’s unambiguous promise, Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas), the chairman of the subcommittee on Social Security of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced another G.O.P. proposal (H.R 6489) to “reform” (read “hollow out all benefit levels”) Social Security, to be taken up when Congress meets next year. Disingenuously described as a method to “permanently save” Social Security, Johnson’s idea of “reform” is to slash nearly everyone’s benefits rather than devise a means to fund the program into the future.

So what would his plan do? According to an analysis prepared by a journalist with Mother Jones (based upon a report by a Social Security actuary), if a recipient has spent his or her life below the poverty level (an annual income of $12,000 or less) Representative Johnson’s plan would bump benefits by 22 percent. Sounds nice, right? Here’s the kicker: people making between $22,000 and $49,000 annually over their lifetimes would see their benefits slashed, up to 28 percent.

It gets worse. Workers having lifetimes average incomes between $49,000 and $78,000 would on average see a 33 percent cut, and those with average annual incomes between $78,000 and $118,000 would suffer an average 43 percent cut, with some benefits cut as much as 70 percent.

Congressman Johnson’s plan doesn’t even pretend to be friendly to middle-class earners. (Remember Trump’s promise to fight for them.) Instead, it treats the long-term health of Social Security as the paramount goal. Because increasing the program’s revenue is anathema to the G.O.P., the only way to achieve that goal is to dramatically reduce its benefits (and the program’s underlying purpose) through deep and broad benefit cuts. For those of you for whom this is a concern, while you may not be able to afford to retire, you can rest comfortably knowing that the Social Security program may be solvent.

As usual with these plans, a lot of its provisions are phased in gradually over time. But some of them kick in right away; even people who are already retired would suffer benefit cuts. As an example, Johnson’s plan reduces the annual cost-of-living increase — and eliminates it entirely for anyone with past earnings over $85,000 — beginning in 2018.

The incoming G.O.P. establishment has already put Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block. Now, quietly, Social Security has a target on its back. The unbounded cruelty of the G.O.P. elected leaders toward those they serve, namely us, should not be countenanced.



About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
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