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ROLLING THE DICE WITH OUR SOCIAL SECURITY
by Frank Kaiser

With the Bush administration shouting "Wolf!" it's no wonder we seniors are spooked.

Daily our president and his friends predict "an iceberg ahead" which will render Social Security "flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now."

It's no surprise that the White House pushes to privatize Social Security.

"Reform," they call it.

Republicans make no secret that they want to shrink government small enough to drown in a bathtub. That's the real agenda here. That, plus helping a bunch of very rich white men become very much richer.

Hey, it's an idea!

If it turns out that we Americans hate government so, and that we want to embrace economic Darwinism, maybe it's the way we should go. Get rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and all those pesky billions we spend on our elderly, our sick and our poor.

Thing is, right now Washington's scaring the hell out of us seniors for no good reason.

Here in Florida where, for many of us, Social Security represents our primary, often only source of income, such talk of reform caused a whopping 20 percent decline among seniors last month in the University of Florida's December Consumer Confidence Index. Such a tsunami of doubt and fear about future finances is unprecedented.

Before the White House frightens the wits out of us, let's take a look at what's really going on.

First, there is no crisis. (If you want to talk crisis, look no further than the disaster we call healthcare.)

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the current Social Security trust fund will last at least another 47 years.

Some economists say it'll last forever.

Of those who disagree, most declare that removing the earnings cap (Social Security taxes stopped at $87,900 in 2004) would erase any projected revenue shortfall.

If you don't like that, rescind Mr. Bush's tax cuts — just for the wealthiest 1 percent. Restoring that $300 million a day in lost revenues would more than take up any slack.

No, this "crisis" is all about plundering our nation's most reliable anti-poverty program and providing Wall Street with the spoils.

But what about the president's proposed "Personal Retirement Accounts?" Won't they encourage savings and foster ownership as he says?

If the president really wants to increase savings and promote ownership, how about starting a universal 401(k) with dollar-for-dollar matching by government for moderate- and low-income workers? Or, exempt payroll taxes on the first $10,000 of income for investment.

But that's not going to happen because that's not what the president wants at all. What he is really after is ridding the country of all government programs, privatizing everything right down to local schools, police, fire, and water departments.

So let's debate that.

Instead of arguing the real issues involved with Social Security, the White House terrifies us with the same kind of chatter that preceded our invasion of Iraq. This time the feared WMDs are financial. But the rhetoric is the same: a stunning, immediate threat to the security of our nation, my pocketbook and yours.

Maybe that's the only way you sell an unnecessary "reform" that will cut benefits while costing a staggering $2 trillion to fund.

Such reckless tactics worked before.

If there's anything the Republicans well understand, it's the framing of an issue that matters. Calling a program encouraging industrial pollution "Clear Skies" is but one example. Replacing Social Security with "Personal Retirement Accounts" is similar verbal flatulence.

No matter what you're told, such accounts have about as much to do with the solvency and sustainability of our Social Security program as the pig that just flew over my house.

Such accounts don't mend the program. They end it.

© 2005 — Frank Kaiser

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Have a great weekend, everyone! It's 82 degrees and sunny here in Clearwater.

Frank

Frank Kaiser
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