Friday, July 9, 2010

Hoyer and Boehner: Out of Touch with Working People

Sorry for the non-music content...

Recently, Steny Hoyer and John Boehner were meeting to discuss raising the retirement age to 70, as a way to ease the long-term fiscal problems of Social Security and to help with the Deficit. According to most studies of Social Security, its fiscal health is pretty good until sometime between 2037 and 2041, so we really are talking about a long-term issue here. As for the deficit, that’s a bit of a head scratcher.

Most economists will tell you that Social Security has little or nothing to do with the deficit, except that it makes a pretty good slush fund to make the deficit look smaller in the short-term. However, raising the retirement age 15 years from now (no one over 50 would be impacted in most such plans), would have no impact on current deficits, so it’s unclear what Hoyer is really thinking. Boehner, of course, is just trying to chip away at Social Security any way he can. It's in the Republican DNA. He can't help it.

Is this really the best use of our time in 2010? I mean, the country is still lurching towards a double dip recession, if not outright depression. Unemployment is still almost 10% (really almost 20%). We can’t get an extension of unemployment benefits through the Senate. The Gulf becomes more toxic every hour. Energy legislation is stalled (again in the Senate). The financial markets are still pretty much a den of thieves trying to suck every last dime out of our pockets. The housing market is in shambles and people are losing or walking away from their homes left and right. We’re still fighting two expensive wars in the Middle East, with no real end in sight. We need stimulus and jobs now, not even more unwanted people in the labor market.

If we don’t solve these problems, right now or soon, then it really doesn’t matter what shape social security is in 27 years from now. We probably won’t have a country in 2037, let alone Social Security. If we can’t create jobs, transition to a clean energy future and clean up Wall Street and the Big Banks, we’ll be a smoking ruin of a country in 25 years. But let’s look at the issue on its merits.

The standard argument for raising the retirement age is that people are living longer and are healthier than they were when Social Security was started. That’s pretty much true. Steny Hoyer is 71, so he probably thinks that working into your 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s is a good idea (think Robert Byrd). “Hey, if I can do it, so can you.” The trouble with this logic is that most of us don’t have as good (easy?) a job as members of Congress and we don’t have their salaries and benefits package either.

Among the long-term unemployed, a growing percentage is over 50, and many are college graduates. Many of these are unlikely to work again. So raising the retirement age could hurt a growing number of seniors, consigning them to poverty (one of the original justifications for Social Security), dumping them on their children (no Thanks), or pushing them into menial and demeaning jobs. Related to this, who’s going to employ all these 66-70 year olds? I’m sure my employer would be salivating at the opportunity to keep me around for another four (or 8) years (NOT!). Fortunately I’m old enough that it’s not a real issue and I have a good job, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it for another 12 years. And I sure wouldn’t be looking forward to the prospect of spending my golden years bagging groceries at Publix or flipping burgers (or worse).

So, Steny, what are you thinking? That you’ll trade this mostly meaningless chip for some Republican good will on a bigger issue like climate change or single payer? That might make some sense, if you were in the Senate. And when recently (if ever) have the Republicans responded to a Democratic concession with good will? Or are you just trying to get Boehner to go farther out on a limb? There might be some sort of a game here, but why not just try solving the real problems that face us today?

If you still want to trade this for something, how about something tangible like a 32 hour work week, which could ease the unemployment problem, and make worker’s lives better today. And while you’re at it, how about a mandatory retirement age of 70 for members of Congress…

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