Political Chutzpah on Steroids
What is the obsession with Social Security? The GOP has fumed about it since Franklin Roosevelt proposed it and got it passed in 1935. The decades-long drumbeat of these programs being “socialist” has convinced too many voters to feel, “screw grandma, we have principles to uphold.”
OK, let's start with some facts before we dive into this vat of molasses. Senator Rick Scott of Florida is a hypocrite of staggering proportions.
All right, got that out of the way. Here's why. Scott, for some reason known only to observers with Herschel Walker-level analytical powers, has proposed essentially phasing out Social Security and Medicare. That is a proposal that will no doubt please the policy purists in the conservative camp, but is absolute kryptonite in an election year. Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said this is an absolute non-starter.
Of course Mitch was calling for SS cuts back in 2018, but hey, who can remember back that far? In fact, Mitch publicly said he'd defend Trump's tax cuts by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That came at a time when 60% of Americans said in a poll that they'd rather reverse the tax cuts than cut Social Security.
Here's why Scott exhibits Mt. Everest levels of hypocrisy. His last job in the private sector was as co-founder and CEO of Columbia/HCA hospital corporation. Under his watch, the company was found guilty in the largest Medicare fraud case up to that time. Here's what Politifact had to say...
In December 2000, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Columbia/HCA agreed to pay $840 million in criminal fines, civil damages and penalties.
Among the revelations from the 2000 settlement:
• Columbia billed Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs for tests that were not necessary or had not been ordered by physicians;
• The company attached false diagnosis codes to patient records to increase reimbursement to the hospitals;
• The company illegally claimed non-reimbursable marketing and advertising costs as community education;
• Columbia billed the government for home health care visits for patients who did not qualify to receive them.
The government settled a second series of similar claims with Columbia/HCA in 2002 for an additional $881 million. The total for the two fines was $1.7 billion.
And, even though a huge percentage of population of the state of Florida is sitting in God's waiting room, they proceeded to elect the man who cheated them on their Medicare, Governor of the state and then to the US Senate. I know that people sometimes vote against their own interests, but one has to wonder if the retired boomers there are still doing LSD. The letters WTF hardly do justice to this level of voter obtuseness.
So, what is this obsession with Social Security? Well, it's been in the works for Republicans since Franklin Roosevelt proposed it and got it passed in the Congress in 1935. The opposition was fierce considering the US was in the middle of the Great Depression and Americans' savings and investments were swirling down the porcelain. The final vote for Social Security was lopsided--only 2% of Democrats voted against it (because it wasn't generous enough) while 33% of Republicans voted against Social Security.
Forbes Magazine, that bastion of Bolshevism, recalled the attitudes at the time.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger notes that the Republicans echoed corporate opposition to Social Security. A representative of the Illinois manufacturers testified that if Social Security was passed it would undermine America by “destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility.” In 1935, Republican congressman John Taber said Social Security “is designed to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers, and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.”
So, suffice to say, they've never liked the idea of a program to guarantee retirees, no matter what their situation, just enough to keep the wolf away from the door. George W. Bush proposed privatizing SS with individual accounts administered by, one presumes, the big investment houses and mutual fund companies thus adding a layer of profit in the government plan. In addition, the overhead cost to run Social Security is about 1.7% of total revenues. In the private sector, depending on the category of your business, you may spend between 40 to 80 percent of gross revenues on employee salaries and benefits combined. Salaries alone can account for 18 to 52 percent of your operating budget, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
So, taking that into account, and adding in the need to make a profit, which Social Security and Medicare do not have, what are your predictions on the value of your portfolio when you retire? And what if you retire during a down market on Wall Street, or during an outright recession? Under the current system, your monthly payment does not change. In a recession, good luck.
Of course, in 1965 we got Medicare under LBJ and again, it's much more efficient than private health insurance. The CBO has predicted that the rising cost of private insurance will continue to outstrip Medicare for the next 30 years. The private insurance equivalent of Medicare would cost almost 40 percent more in 2022 for a typical 65-year old. The Hill reports that on the Medicare vote, about 50 percent of House Republicans and 57 percent of Senate Republicans voted against it. In contrast, the percentages of Democrats voting against Medicare were considerably less, 17 percent in the House and 11 percent in the Senate.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, administrative costs in Medicare are only about 2 percent of operating expenditures. Defenders of the insurance industry estimate administrative costs as 17 percent of revenue for private insurers.
And for those who worry about the idea of “Medicare For All” or some other kind of single-payer health insurance, Medicare is single-payer. It is the third largest single-payer system in the world after Japan and the United Kingdom. No need to look at Canada and find obscure anecdotal criticisms. Just ask your grandparents.
When my mother had a stroke in her later years, my dad and I sat in the waiting room of the hospital. He told me this would be impossible to handle without Medicare, and he had a good retirement plan. I told my staunch Republican father, "Repeat after me. Thank you, Lyndon." And he did.
And remember, the incentives in the public and private sector programs are polar opposites. How many frustrating phone calls have you had with insurance company representatives who seem to be speaking Aramaic when you need an answer? That's because the keyword in private health insurance is “delay.” The longer they hold you off, the longer they delay or deny payment, the more effusive the corporate congratulatory email. The longer your premium dollars sit in the corporate investment portfolio, the better the bottom line looks. For Medicare, there is no profit incentive, so the payments are generally not problematic.
Republicans often say that you don't want a government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor. But they seemingly are fine with a health insurance bureaucrat in that position, and one who is instructed to obstruct.
So, again one asks in stupification, why do Republicans keep threatening to end these two programs? Well, for crying out loud, why do they oppose helping students with the outrageous cost of higher education these days, or a program like the Affordable Care Act, which was originally a Republican idea?
It seems that many elected officials think, to the extent that they think at all, that the idea of “limited government” is more important than the welfare of their constituents. And the decades-long drumbeat of these programs being somehow “socialist” has convinced too many voters to feel, “screw grandma, we have principles to uphold.” There is no other way to explain unleashing a dunderhead like Rick Scott on an unsuspecting public.
But, the argument goes, Social Security will go broke by 2035, so how to we keep it solvent? Oh, Republicans have proposed raising SS taxes on workers, raising the retirement age (job hunting in your 70's will be fun), cutting benefits, etc.
Well, guys, the solution is gloriously simple. Let's take the head of Amazon and, OK, virtually everything else, Jeff Bezos. He personally makes about $1.7 billion a year. The current tax rate for social security is 6.2% for the employer and 6.2% for the employee, or 12.4% total. So, take a guess how much of Jeff's $1.7 mill is taxed for Social Security? Let me save you some time. $147,000. That's the income level at which you stop being taxed for Social Security. Everything above that is untouched, except by Internal Revenue.
Now Jeff makes $2,537 per second, so he takes care of his Social Security obligation, $9,114, in just under 4 seconds. If you make that $147K, which puts you in the top 23% of income earners in the country (congratulations), you'll be taxed on every dime. So, the choice would seem to be simple. We can punish the average taxpayer/worker to cover a future shortfall, and have Grandpa scouring Indeed listings for that WalMart greeter gig, or simply lift the cap on income. Jeff will owe just under $105,400,000 in Social Security taxes. So, the time he'll need to pay it rises to an unsustainable 12 hours. So, tax the top 23% like the bottom 77% and your problem is solved. And Jeff will not be reduced to beans and franks since his workers will still qualify for food stamps while they pee into a bottle on the production line.
In addition, my daughter's generation of millennials is larger than my baby boom generation. They will be a huge part of the workforce supporting boomer retirement. And, doesn't it only seem fair to keep the program available for them?
For Medicare? Well, we don't have a national healthcare system like most other countries in the world, even Rwanda, for heaven's sake. And we spend more than anyone because of that.
Again, the solution is simple. Expand Medicare to cover everyone, so even young healthy people will be enrolled and contributing. They are already probably paying for private or company insurance, so the money is already coming out of their checks. And like a private insurance plan, the young and healthy will in essence support the older, potentially, sicker population. It already works that way privately, but it's considerably more expensive. Medicare negotiates lower costs, providers only deal with one insurer and since doctors still work for themselves, medicine isn't socialized as fearmongers claim, only insurance.
And as a bonus, Rick Scott will be left howling at the moon. You're welcome.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.