From the office of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R, ILL)...
"Social Security and Medicare are the electric third rails of American politics. Touch them and you can expect reprisal. It's hard to have an intelligent discussion when one side is determined to scare the bejabbers out of people.
"U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, has taken to calling such tactics 'Mediscare.' We agree."
Kankakee Daily Journal Editorial: Years of Security
Adjusting the time payments begin might be one compromise Social Security and Medicare are the electric third rails of American politics. Touch them and you can expect reprisal. It's hard to have an intelligent discussion when one side is determined to scare the bejabbers out of people.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, has taken to calling such tactics "Mediscare." We agree.
A report out of Washington last week confirms the need for change. The government now estimates that Medicare, which provides medical insurance for senior citizens, will be broke by 2024, five years earlier than previous estimates. Social Security will be drained now by 2036, one year faster than previously thought. Once the money is gone, payments of some kind will continue, but they will be less.
The changes are being driven, in part, by demographics. The huge baby boomer contingent is beginning to retire. The sagging economy also means smaller payments into the program.
So the real question is whether the nation opts to make a small change now, or whether, barring all rational compromise, it simply decides to run off a cliff. The AARP, a lobby which represents retired persons and persons over 50, used part of its latest magazine to remind voters that programs are about people, not about numbers. That's true, but does not tell the whole story.
In his most recent column, Robert Samuelson tries to disassemble the myth of the impoverished senior citizen. People over 55 constitute a third of the nation's adult population, but hold half of the wealth. In 2007, only 9.7 percent, one in 10 senior citizens, fell below the poverty line.
The other side of the coin, though, is that those who need Social Security really need it. For the poorest seniors, Samuelson explains, the bottom 40 percent, Social Security constitutes almost 83 percent of their wealth. Samuelson suggests means-testing, turning Social Security into an anti-poverty program.
The sensible middle ground here is to neither cut benefits, nor raise taxes, but to increase the eligibility age. Someone at age 65 can now expect to live to be 83.5. In 1930, that figure was 77.2. We would make other subtle adjustments in the Social Security formula, which today contains benefits not envisioned when the program started. If we adjust the cost of living automatically, might not we also adjust the date benefits begin?