Robert Borosage: Progressives must push back on conservative attempts to cut entitlements, focus on real solutions.
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s release of the annual Social Security & Medicare Trustees report, Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, urged Congress not to bend to conservative hysteria, but to address the real root of the problem – our broken health care system and its out-of-control costs.
The Trustees report reveals what we already knew: Social Security and Medicare lose revenue when unemployment is rising, just as they are strengthened when the economy is growing. Reviving the economy must be our first priority.
Conservatives will no doubt seek to use the report to raise alarms about Social Security and Medicare, and call for bipartisan efforts to reduce the benefits. At least, given the collapse of the stock market, they’ve shelved calls for privatizing Social Security for the time being. But their focus on entitlements is equally bad policy.
Everyone should be clear. America does not have an “entitlements problem” Its structural long-term debt problems are entirely a problem of soaring health care costs. Get health care costs under control, and we have no long-term structural problem. Fail to get health care costs under control, and families, companies, state governments and the federal government will face soaring debts. President Obama is exactly right: the priority must be to fix our broken health care system.
Focusing on cutting entitlements not only gets the problem wrong, it makes the problem worse. Americans have lost an estimated $13 trillion in wealth in the last two years, with most of the losses suffered by those 45 and older. Retirement security has been shattered. Half of all workers have no retirement plan at all through their jobs, and the remainder increasingly have 401(k)s that just got hit with significant losses from already insufficient savings. Many counted on their homes as a chief source of savings, but can no longer on that. The one source of security is the floor provided by Social Security. The last thing any responsible leader should do is recommend cutting those benefits or raising the retirement age – again. If anything, this downturn is a good time to raise Social Security benefits to help lift America from the downturn.
The president and Congress should focus on the challenges we face. Revive the economy, and restructure it for sustainable growth. Fix our broken health care system. Targeting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare is a diversion, not an answer.