Political News - Conservative Views - Education - Solutions
In my last article, I tackled several arguments that are commonly used to defend entitlements, or at least change the subject away from entitlement reform. I showed that defense spending, illegal aliens, and "the rich" are red-herring distractions that would make no difference in our looming debt crisis. There is still one last nugget that I commonly hear that needs to be addressed, and on its face it makes sense, which is why it's so attractive, but like other arguments it simply shifts the subject. Unlike the subjects in my last article, more of my arguments are going to be based on philosophy and history and less on charts and numbers, but they are no less valid.
A common suggestion made in the debate on entitlement reform is to "grandfather" those who are already in retirement, or near the age of retirement. Those seniors (or near-seniors) will receive full benefits, while younger workers will pay their FICA taxes, but receive fewer benefits. After several decades, the programs will be phased out as retirees pass away, and then the FICA tax can be eliminated. It sounds like it could work in theory, but there are several obvious flaws in this plan that I believe will ensure it will fail.
THE “ROLLING” STANDARD
Historically, whenever entitlement reforms have been proposed it is the current recipients who fight the reform, and the current workers who are paying for the benefits who are fighting FOR the reform. However as the decades roll by, the workers who fought for reform change their position as they begin receiving benefits, and fight for the status quo, beginning the process anew.
So let’s say that we “grandfather” in people 56 and older into the current system, while asking people 55 and younger to pay their FICA taxes but receive less benefits. What will happen in 10 years when those 55 year old turns 65? They paid into the system “their whole working lives” and now the government is taking away their earned benefits. They’ll use the exact same arguments in 10 years that current seniors are using now, and they will be just a politically active as current seniors. If we’re unwilling to hold current seniors accountable, why would anything change in 10 years? You’re just “punting the ball down the field” for another 10 years, but the debate will simply pick up again then. Seniors will still accuse you of hating them, trying to kill them, etc.
Seniors are the largest active voting bloc, and when these “new” seniors turn 65, you can bet the law will be changed, and they’ll be able to get their full benefits too. They’ll come up with some excuse like maybe saying that 10 years is simply not enough time to save for your own retirement, and they’ll kick the can down the road again by allowing another group to keep their benefits while throwing a younger group under the bus; repeat ad infinitum.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL STANDARD
The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". This clause is currently being used to argue in favor of gay marriage rights, and you can bet that it will be used to argue for equal entitlements in the future is one group is receiving more benefits than another. It’s inherently unfair and arbitrary to say that this group will get benefits, but that group won’t get benefits when both groups have paid equal FICA taxes for their benefits. In fact, some are arguing that that FICA taxes need to be raised, which means that younger workers will pay MORE TAXES and receive LESS BENEFITS. If you think that they won’t challenge that in court or that the government won’t side with this new batch of seniors out of political expediency, you’re sadly mistaken.
THE DEBT STANDARD
Ronald Reagan warned America in 1964 that Social Security was a Welfare program and that the FICA taxes that were collected were for the “general use of the government” and that there was so fund. That was almost 50 years ago, and the “fund” is now broke and hemorrhaging money. So what will be different in 10 years? Nothing will be different except we’ll have more debt, and the funds will be even more broke. However, you can’t argue that the needs of future seniors have to be ignored because of our debt crisis, but the needs of CURRENT seniors can’t be ignored because these entitlement programs are a “sacred trust” as many politicians are calling it. WE ARE BROKE RIGHT NOW! In fact, technically we went broke in 2010 when the fund first went bankrupt, so if debt is the standard, the programs need to be reformed for everyone. You can’t say that needs outweigh debt for one group, but not for another group.
Reforming these programs, but “grandfathering” current seniors (and near seniors) makes the reform unfair, and will ensure that the reforms will be repealed at a later date. If we reform these programs for everyone (including current beneficiaries) many seniors will suffer negative consequences, but in 10 years, other seniors will suffer negative consequences instead. You’re simply trading the suffering of one group for another, and you’re ensuring that we have 10 more years of hemorrhaging entitlement programs before we even BEGIN to attempt to address the problem. I believe that we can’t afford to wait 10 years to address the problem, and we needed reform 50 years ago, but since we don’t have a Time Machine, NOW will have to be good enough.
Haven’t we learned yet that politicians always push off important decisions to “the next guy”? The GOP wants to push off reforms for 10 years, when none of them will be in office, and someone else will have to make the hard decisions. We need real leadership, and that requires tough decisions to be made now, not in 10 years when we’re already borrowing Trillions a year, with skyrocketing gas prices and double-digit unemployment.
Things are going to be hard for seniors, but things are going to be hard for everybody, that’s what “living within your means” is all about. For generations we’ve been told how irresponsible this or that generation was being, and that “our children and grandchildren” are going to be paying for it. I’m here to tell you that WE ARE THE CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN that are going to have to pay the collective bill from the 1930s to today. We can no longer put off the hard decisions because the “funds” are broke. It happened 20 years earlier than expected, but the result is that we can no longer pay lip service to entitlement reform, we must reform entitlements, and we must reform them for everyone.