On Older Americans Month, the White House’s Rhetoric Doesn’t Match Reality
By Nathan Tabak
May 6, 2010 - 8:38pm ET
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This post is part of our ongoing "Virtual Summit on Fiscal and Economic Responsibility for People Who Did Not Wreck The Economy."
President Obama issued a proclamation declaring May 2010 “Older Americans Month.” This is a noble-sounding document, filled with praise for “these treasured individuals who have contributed so much to our nation.” But in several important respects, this lofty rhetoric just doesn’t match the harsh reality of what the administration’s debt commission is proposing for actual older Americans.
Here’s what the proclamation has to say about Social Security: “By strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, while protecting Social Security, we help ensure all Americans can age with dignity.” Yet this is a long way from what Obama’s debt commission, and the people on it, are saying.
Former Republican senator Alan Simpson, along with President Clinton’s chief of staff Erskine Bowles, are the two co-chairs of the debt commission. When they were interviewed on Fox News Sunday last week, Simpson had this to say about Social Security and its recipients:
WALLACE: Speaking for yourself now, not — just as one member of the commission, do you see big savings to be made in Social Security?
SIMPSON: Social Security doesn't — if people of good will can get together on that baby, we can solve that one in half a day. Social Security is the least of our problems.
But the thing that is really impossible to believe is that whatever adjustment we make and whatever has been suggested for the last 10 years in Social Security reform, from top to bottom, you know, new dates, more contribution, none of that affects anybody over 57. Where do I get my mail? From these old cats 70 and 80 years old who are not affected in one whiff. People who live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins (ph) restaurant to get the AARP discount. This is madness.
People living in gated communities and driving Lexuses. That’s how Simpson sees seniors who are up in arms about potential cuts to Social Security. But perhaps if he could stop assuming that the lifestyles of his moneyed friends are representative of seniors in general, he’d realize that Social Security is a literally a matter of life and death for many older Americans. In fact, for 30% of retirees over 65, Social Security payments provide over 90 percent of income.
But sadly, it appears that Simpson’s callous comments are representative of the approach that the panel intends to take to addressing the nation’s debt. The New York Times reported that at the recent Peter G. Peterson-hosted fiscal policy summit, “Social Security was a frequent target for those proposing areas for future deficit reductions, given that the rising costs of entitlement programs as the population ages are the biggest reason for the size of deficit forecasts.” The idea that Social Security is a major contributor to the deficit is little more than rank fearmongering, but that’s a truth that’s all too often ignored by our policymakers. And while he didn’t single Social Security out for potential cuts, it’s probably not a good sign that last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) “admonished ‘bleeding heart liberals’ to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance.”
Ideally, Washington would be heeding the words of the president’s Older Americans Month proclamation: “Many of our Nation's older men and women have worked tirelessly and sacrificed so their children could achieve something greater.” But apparently, the very real sacrifices that seniors have made just aren’t enough.
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