In the upcoming days, I plan to address several of the issues Republicans - who have the power to set the agenda - are planning to bring before the country these next two years. They include simplifying the tax code, tort and malpractice reform, the creation of health care savings accounts, and others. Today, though, I'm dealing with Social Security/Medicare, since it's the hot-button issue out there.
Republicans are telling us Social Security is about to go down the tubes. Democrats tell us that everything's hunky-dory, so why bother? Of course, we sentient beings realize that neither side is being forthcoming with us. Social Security is in trouble, but it's not immediate trouble. In fact, if medical costs remain inflated, Medicare is likely to go bust before Social Security.
So let's look at the Republicans' plan. They want to divert payroll tax funds into private accounts, essentially setting up a mandatory retirement fund. This will create a $2 trillion cost over the first decade - but alleviating what supporters say will be a $11.2 trillion cost down the road (according to Cato, anyway).
It seems to me, though, that this is a fairly absurd plan. It is a dishonest attempt to gut the Social Security system. If you have it in for Social Security, as Republicans seem to, you should have the courage to eliminate the payroll tax and do away with the whole system. As it is, Republicans have come up with something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Who's going to manage these accounts, anyway? If we're going to manage them ourselves, why not just give us a payroll tax cut and let us do what we want with the money we get? And what sense would it make to have the government manage them? Couldn't the government just start investing money anyway without all this hullaballoo about "starting private accounts"?
(Of course, because of our deficit, that would lead to the somewhat amusing situation of our government issuing bonds to get money to invest. I wonder what would happen if the government invested in its own bonds - would everything disappear in a puff of logic, as Douglas Adams would say?)
It seems to me there are solutions that allow us to save Social Security without destroying it. My favorite idea is reorganizing the ridiculously regressive payroll tax, thus making the system fairer and raising the money to save the system. Right now, Social Security is an upward redistribution scheme - taking money from the working class and giving it to the richest segment of the population. Another possibility is to cut benefits to the financially independent elderly, making Social Security a need-based program.
Anyway, that's my take on it. More ideas as they come to me.