Wednesday, November 15, 2023

That Third Rail

When the New York Times/Siena College poll of six swing states was released approximately ten days ago, the main storyline was that Donald Trump was ahead in a one-on-one matchup with President Biden in five of them. The secondary story was that Nikki Haley was ahead in all six.

Of course, polls twelve months ahead of the presidential election are virtually worthless. We don't know whether by then Donald Trump will have been convicted or acquitted in a court)s) of law or whether there even will be a verdict by then. Twelve months ago, there wasn't even a war in the Middle East, and the status of that conflict and that between Russia and Ukraine is unknowable.  It's even more uncertain when we add to that such things as the unpredictable nature of the economy, of the political effect of Republican efforts to roll back reproductive freedom, the impact of third party candidates, the dishonest persuasiveness of artificial intelligence applied to social media, and the outcome of the presidential election.

That has not prevented many of the stars, hosts, pundits, and others, in the mainstream media to speculate that other GOP hopefuls, especially Nikki Haley, would be stronger candidates than Trump.

Bring it (her) on.  Below, the ex-South Carolina, ex-United Nations ambassador can be seen remarking

Social Security is going to go bankrupt in ten years. Medicare is going to go bankrupt in eight. So the way we deal with it is we don't change anyone's retirement or anyone who has been promised in.

This has been the right's mantra for many years now. Conservatives know that Social Security is very popular with the elderly, who know how important it is- and they know that the elderly vote. And they know- or should- that Social Security is not "going to go bankrupt" in ten years.  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted earlier this year

Social Security is largely a “pay as you go” program, meaning today’s benefits are funded primarily by the payroll taxes collected from today’s workers. For over three decades, however, Social Security collected more in payroll taxes and other income than it paid in benefits and other expenses, and the Treasury invested the surplus in interest-bearing Treasury securities, ultimately reaching a total of $2.9 trillion in trust fund reserves. In 2021 Social Security began redeeming those reserves to help pay benefits. Payroll taxes from current workers will continue to pay for the bulk of benefits. The trust fund reserves will make up the difference between income and costs until the reserves are depleted. At that point, Social Security’s income will still be able to pay roughly 80 percent of promised benefits — even in the unlikely event that policymakers fail to act.

She continued

But we go to people like my kids in their '20s when they're coming into the system and we say the rules have changed. We change retirement age to reflect life expectancy. Instead of cost-of-living increases, we'd do it based on inflation. We limit the benefits on the wealthy and expand Medicare Advantage plans.

Understandably, Haley did not explain the difference between cost-of-living increases and inflation, an explanation which would have been enlightening. However, the "change retirement age" is a fairly clear recommendation that we increase the eligibility age..

Haley suggests "we limit the benefits on the wealthy" not because they're unneeded by the rich but because that approach would turn Social Security into a welfare program, at which time support for Social Security as we've known it would diminish.  That would give corporate-friendly Republicans such as Haley an excuse to move to privatization of the system.  Were Haley interested in limiting assistance only to the needy, she'd argue that tax loopholes for the wealthy be eliminated, which she will advocate once Miami receives a major July snowstorm..

Haley hinted at her motive when she recommended the federal government "expand Medicare Advantage plans."  Yet as a Medicare advisory group has explained, the

over-reach of private Medicare Advantage plans is called what it is: Fraud. Medicare Advantage overpayments threaten Medicare’s fiscal sustainability. At the same time, these private plans block access to necessary care with baseless prior authorization and on-going Medicare denials. In short, Medicare Advantage costs the Medicare program and taxpayers more, but provides beneficiaries less when they really need care.

Haley claimed "sixty-five is way too low"  for eligibility for Social Security. That may go over with her conservative buddies in the professional-managerial class, individuals who are physically able to work into their 70's (and occasionally beyond) because the work takes little toll on their bodies. But tens of millions of Americans, most in the working class which Republicans insist they're so concerned about, have no such luxury. If they do not receive Social Security, they must keep working for a living, and that retirement age which has increased will take a blow along with the lives of the families involved.

If there were any will whatsoever among Republicans, the decline in Social Security solvency could easily be reversed. The cap on contributions toward Social Security not only would shore up the system in the short run but would probably end any revenue shortfall forever. 

But there is no interest among Republicans, including among those such as Haley who are sometimes characterized by the media as "moderates," for taking this obviously needed step. They would prefer to undermine the system. If the former South Carolina governor is nominated, she would play right into what we learned in January is President Biden's wheelhouse.


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