Friday, July 4, 2008

Social Security Program Solid

Comptroller General David M. Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan sure have been getting a lot of positive ink from the Journal-Sentinel lately. It’s a shame none of it is warranted. Ryan has wrapped the old Republican sow’s ear in ribbons and bows and is trying to sell it as a silk purse (more here and here). And, Walker is trotting out a supposedly, as far as the Journal is concerned, Paul Revere moment about our nation’s debt, in which the Journal’s latest editorial extrapolates into a Social Security and Medicare horror story.

For starters, Social Security is fine. For the mainstream media to keep pushing these ominous threats about Social Security's impending doom is inexcusable. A third of our seniors are not in poverty because of this program. This is one of the great accomplishments of America (and one of the few remaining in our ever-dwindling social contract). To speak of cutting or privatizing such an exemplary and successful program is breathtakingly ridiculous. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits that Social Security is solvent, as is, without any changes until 2052, and up to 80 percent after that. As Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution informs in a Washington Post article, the idea that somehow privatizing Social Security, making it dependent on the whims of the stock market, is the answer, is also a myth.

Medicare is a quandary, but not because of it’s entitlement issue. It’s because of managed care and the pharmaceutical industries skyrocketing profits. Seniors consume the most medical care and prescriptions -- private companies are gouging the government through Medicare reimbursement with inflated charges (yet another, in essence, subsidy to big business). We don’t even use our numbers to negotiate prescription drug-price deals for buying in volume (in fact, this was strictly prohibited in Bush’s Medicare bill).

For our health care we spend twice as much as any other developed nation, we get worse results, and 50 million are uninsured.

But, as usual, the recommendations always seem to be: cut services, slash wages, do away with programs, etc. The majority of us are asked to sacrifice and to go without so that private insurance and pharmaceutical company CEOs don’t have to. Their profits, mansions, yachts, and other extravagant lifestyle amenities cannot be disrupted by things like living wages, health care for all, or a generally accepted standard of living where we actually have a middle-class again.

Why not just remove the cap on Social Security? Why isn’t someone demanding that business actually pay the nominal corporate tax rate (rather than the tax sheltered amount they actually do)? Why can’t we regulate the pharmaceutical industry and control costs like all other developed nations? Why can’t we move toward universal health care? The administrative costs of our health care system represent 25 to 30 percent of our total cost. In other countries, the same costs represent only 2 to 3 percent.

This (mis)reporting is a real failure of the Journal-Sentinel editorial board. To be pushing such Social Security doomsday myths and to endorse the worn-out cut and/or do-without “solution” to this public policy matter is irresponsible. And, again, as always, to not connect the bigger economic dots in this health care/retirement element of the class war (that’s what we’re in, let’s admit it) is journalistic deception. Placing these issues in their larger context would seem a no-brainer. Alongside doing a bit of research and/or talking with some sources who may hold an opposite view. Lapping up these doomsday scenarios and regurgitating them into the newspaper as gospel is a disservice to readers.

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