By U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle
(published in Northeast Times Jan. 10, 2017)
All throughout this past election season, President-elect Trump repeatedly promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. In one of his most strident commitments to the programs, he said, “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years.” Many of us, despite grave misgivings about the president-elect’s other hardline policy positions, gave him some credit for going against the grain of his party’s orthodoxy in his pledge to protect benefits that millions of Americans have paid for and rightly expect to receive. But now that Trump is assembling his cabinet and constructing an agenda guided by GOP congressional leaders, we have good reasons to be worried that Trump’s promises were an empty sales pitch.
First, Medicare. Many of my Republican colleagues in Congress, most prominently Speaker Paul Ryan, have long hoped to replace our guarantee of quality healthcare for older and disabled Americans with a privatized system of “premium support” vouchers. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that, when it was last proposed by Speaker Ryan a few years ago, such a system would force seniors to spend roughly half of their Social Security checks on healthcare-related expenses by 2022. Today, seniors already divert 22 percent of their Social Security to medical services, medicine and devices that should be more adequately covered by Medicare. So, Ryan’s plan amounts to nearly a 100-percent increase for these seniors.
The Kaiser Family Foundation also warned that the Ryan privatization plan would overexpose Medicare recipients to risk, making them susceptible to the ups and downs of the stock market. As we’ve seen in recent years, returns can fluctuate wildly. One need only be reminded that between 2001 and 2003, the NASDAQ lost 75 percent of its value, and of course there was the market downturn of 2008.
Second, Social Security. The president-elect has named Michael Korbey, one of the architects of George W. Bush’s privatization scheme, to his Social Security team. In Congress, the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Social Security just introduced what is widely considered a blueprint to raise Social Security’s retirement age, cut cost-of-living adjustments and slash benefits for middle-class Americans. The Social Security Administration’s chief actuary has evaluated the proposal and has found that a fairly typical worker would stand to lose nearly 17 percent of their Social Security benefits under the Republican blueprint.
I hope that these dismaying signs do not represent gathering storm clouds for Social Security and Medicare. But, as your representative in Congress, I want you to know that I’m prepared to fight against anything that might strip away the stability that these earned benefits provide for millions of Americans.
The Social Security Board of Trustees’ 76th annual report released in June 2016 shows that, as a whole, Social Security is fully funded until 2034, and after that it is about three-quarters financed.
Over 50 years ago, we as a nation made a commitment to honor the dignity and independence of senior citizens and disabled citizens not because it was convenient, but because it’s the right thing to do for them, their families and America’s future generations. Since we made that promise, these safety net programs have paid dividends for us all. Rather than tearing these programs down and leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves, we should be strengthening and expanding these programs.
It is my duty as your representative in Congress not only to uphold that mantle, but to lift it higher for the benefit and protection of those most in need.
Democrat Brendan Boyle represents the 13th Congressional District.