Saturday, March 05, 2011

It's time for everyone (else) to make sacrifices

Once again, John Boehner is talking about "curbing" Social Security. He refuses to say how he wants to do that, but he assures us it must be done and it must be done soon. In the past he has said he supports raising the retirement age to seventy for younger workers while allowing those already close to the age of retirement age to collect on schedule. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed partially privatizing Social Security and cutting benefits in his budget roadmap last year. Republicans and deficit hawks like to talk tough about sacrifices. If people lose jobs because of their budget cuts, "so be it." Of course, it's not their jobs that will be lost. They won't be the ones eating catfood if Social security is cut. Let's look at an example.

As Speaker of the House, John Boehner makes $223,500 a year, or roughly fifteen times the minimum wage. If he were to retire at the end of this term, at age sixty three, he would be entitled to a government pension of eighty percent of his final year's pay. That's $178,800 per year and it comes with cost of living increases. Of the funding for his pension, about twenty percent is deducted from his paycheck. He's also entitled to Social Security, which is also based on his final year's pay. That amounts to another $21,636 per year. And if that $200,000 per year isn't enough to pay for his golf outings, he can always dip into his personal wealth, which is estimated to lie somewhere between two and eight million. For those pesky medical bills, he can use Medicare.

Glenn Beck, who made thirty-two million in 2009, thinks Social security is un-American. He thinks we should be more self-reliant and that families should take care of their own old. In 1935 when Social Security was enacted, well over half of the seniors in the United States lived in poverty. Today, it is less than ten percent, which is still too much. Social Security prevents about twenty million Americans from slipping into poverty. Glenn Beck thinks those people should find a relative to live with and that those relatives should sacrifice something--college for the kids?--in order to take care of their seniors. John Boehner thinks seniors should keep working if they want to get by.

Rich men like Boehner and Beck are hypocrites for demanding that we all make sacrifices when they both know that they will never feel those sacrifices. Beck thinks we should all take care of our own. I'm sure he takes good care of his folks. I'm sure Boehner was a good son and helped his mother as needed. Their concept of "their own" doesn't go much further than that. Would either take an impoverished aunt or uncle into their homes? What about a more distant cousin? For them, a phrase like "we take care of our own" has a very narrow meaning. It's primarily limited to close blood relatives and maybe one of their closest friends or members of their church. It's limited to people whom they have met and only some of those. It does not extend to all Americans or even to that subset that they call "real" Americans. For them, "We the people" is an empty phrase; it's a symbol that they wrap themselves in on public occasions like the flag, Bible, and Constitution. They not only want to give the royal razz to anyone out side their narrow "we," but they actively stoke fear, resentment, and parochialism among their supporters so that they too will tell their fellow Americans to go to hell.

Due to a convenient loophole, John Boehner and Glenn Beck pay into Social Security at a far lower rate than you or I. The payroll deduction for Social Security is only collected on the first $106,800 that you make. The person who makes that much contributes $4485, or 4.2 percent of their pay, into the system. John Boehner, for his $223,500, contributes $4485, about two percent of his pay, into the system. Glenn Beck, for his thirty-two million, contributes $4485, about one seventieth of one percent of his pay, into the system. If they paid the payroll deduction on their entire incomes, the system would be solvent as far into the future as we can see. But wait, their defenders will say, they can only collect as much as the person making $106,800; why should contribute more just to help people they haven't even met? It isn't enough to say that there are Americans suffering and that they have it within their power to end their pain. Those other Americans are outside their tiny concept of "we."

It's common rhetoric on the right to say that the left hates America, Americans, and American values. But, where's the love in condemning millions of Americans to poverty? Since when is "I got mine, so screw you" an American value? It's time to stop scaring people with apocalyptic tales of the deficit and start thinking about helping people.

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