Saturday, October 13, 2012

Support For Earned Benefits, To A Point

Evidence that ABC's Martha Raddatz effectively moderated the Veep debate is demonstrated by criticism from Rush Limbaugh, who today claimed

So it was predictable that she was gonna do that, and she did it. I mean, you've seen the stats of how many interruptions and how many questions versus how many interruptions of questions for Biden. It was clearly stacked, clearly unfair, and it was obvious to everybody. If you thought it was unfair, you're not in a vacuum. Everybody thought the same thing. 

Ah, yes. Questioning a Republican:  proof positive of bias.   And although Raddatz did a good job (particularly compared to the hapless Lehrer), she did whiff on at least one substantive question.  (The last question of the debate simply was not substantive.  Chris Hayes nailed it.) Midway through, she asked "Let's talk about Medicare and entitlements. Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?"  CAP's Pat Garofalo explains

The media consistently fuel the misconception that Social Security is bankrupt or going broke, whipping itself into a frenzy of doomsday scenarios and asking politicians when they will deal with this supposedly grave threat to the U.S. budget. However, Social Security can pay full benefits until 2037, and nearly full benefits for years after that, even if literally nothing is done to change the program. Reporters would surely be shocked if infrastructure projects, child nutrition programs, or any other federal effort were fully funded for more than two decades, but no credit is given to lawmakers for achieving just that with Social Security.

Furthermore, Social Security is statutorily barred from adding to the deficit: the program can’t add to the gap between revenue and spending. Plus, one very simple tweak — lifting the cap on the payroll tax so that it is applied to more of the wealthiest Americans’ income — would ensure that Social Security can pay full benefits for more than 70 years.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said, “Social Security has not added a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has. And for the next 30 years, it won’t do that.” But Ryan consistently raises alarm about the program in an effort to promote his desire to privatize it entirely. In this instance, Raddatz helped him spread his misinformation with her abysmal framing of the question.

The Affordable Care Act has extended the solvency of Medicare from 2016 to 2024.   The threat to Medicare, further, comes not from the program itself but from the escalating cost of health care, which has long been higher in the U.S.A. than in any other nation of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (chart, from OECD using mostly 2008 data, below). Administrative costs of private insurance are 17% of revenue; of Medicare, they are approximately 2%. Partly as a result, Medicare spending grew at an annual rate of 4.3% between 1997 and 2009 while private insurance premiums grew 6.5% per year, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The good news is that, unlike a Romney-Ryan administration, a second Obama administration apparently will not privatize Social Security or replace Medicare with a voucher.  Biden on Thursday emphasized

We will not, though, be part of any voucher plan eliminating -- the voucher says, "Mom, when you're -- when you're 65, go out there, shop for the best insurance you can get. You're out of Medicare." You can buy back in if you want with this voucher, which will not keep pace -- will not keep pace with health care costs. Because if it did keep pace with health care costs, there would be no savings. That's why they go the voucher. They -- we will be no part of a voucher program or the privatization of Social Security.

The bad news is that the Vice-President was responding to Raddatz's query whether "if it could help solve the problem, why not very slowly raise the Medicare eligibility age by two years...?"  Rather than explain that the cost of health care- not Medicare- is the problem to be "solved," Biden hinted that President Obama is open to increasing the eligibility age for gaining access to the program, presumably as part of a Grand Bargain.  He had begun his response with

Look, I was there when we did that with Social Security in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O'Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together and everybody said, as long as everybody's in the deal, everybody's in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way.

The PPACA should have included a public option.  Better yet would have been scrapping it entirely for a single payer system, preferably one framed as "Medicare For All."   Now, the only major non- right wing party appears to be preparing us for an increase in the eligibility age, thus decreasing access and reducing its lifetime benefit.

Recognizing that Obama-Biden has unwisely decided not to make "an unequivocal promise not to cut benefits," Firedoglake's Jon Walker argues "Effectively, Obama has decided he would rather lose the election with his vague message on entitlements than win the election, if it means using tactics that would significantly restrict his ability to cut Social Security in his second term. This should make any actual liberal very nervous."

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