Friday, July 22, 2011

Convincing liberals to change Social Security or Medicare

Things have been moving very quickly in the debt ceiling negotiations and the latest rumors are that John Boehner and President Obama are revisiting a "grand plan" that includes changes in Social Security and Medicare. Liberal groups are outraged at the mere suggestion of this. Fundraising "bundlers" are signing pledges promising to not raise money for Obama's reelection if either program is touched, and there's the usual talk of voting for a third party in November.

All of this is premature. Nothing has been agreed upon (or at the very least written down), and we have no idea what's been discussed or even if the President is genuine in his efforts. However, there are some things genuinely worth changing to Social Security and Medicare that wouldn't affect the usefulness of the programs. If the President were seriously going to suggest making changes, here's how he might want to do it:

"To my own party I say, don't let politics get in the way of good policy and don't oppose a measure just because it has some support across the aisle. These programs [Medicare and Social Security] provide an invaluable safety net for all Americans, but nobody would claim they are not without their flaws. I believe there are changes to be made that are consistent with our ideals and they shouldn't be rejected without proper consideration.

Why, for example,  should Social Security be funded with a regressive tax which forces lower income Americans to pay a higher percentage of their salary? If it were changed to a flat or even a progressive tax system it would bring in trillions of dollarsin additional revenue. What if the percentage of benefits subject to income tax varied by a person's net worth, with 100% of benefits being taxed at the top of the scale? That could result in both more help for the people that need it most and improved solvency for the long term.

When we were working to pass the Affordable Care Act, our goal was not just to extend coverage to uninsured Americans, but also to try reigning in spiraling healthcare costs. I don't know what's changed between then and now.

The United States' government provides health coverage for more Americans than any private insurance company, but you wouldn't know it from how we bargain with providers. Private companies use their huge buying power as leverage to negotiate lower rates, but they answer to a board of directors rather than the US Congress. We can make care more affordable, but it won't work if we have people who are willing to use scare tactics with the American people to score political points. 

I believe we can continue providing the same coverage for less money. I think we can make Social Security solvent without reducing checks to recipients by one dollar. Take a look at the proposals and I think you'll find that we've seized this opportunity to make changes that won't just reduce the deficit, but will also move this country forward. I don't know why you would oppose that."

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