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Shameful lack of progress on Social Security reform

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POSTED May 31, 2013 10:35 p.m.

Many people have asked me if I have written a book about Social Security. The answer is yes and no. The "yes" part of that answer alludes to the fact that I've had a Social Security book ready to go for many years now. The "no" part of the answer is that it hasn't been published yet. And therein lies a story.

About ten years ago, I had signed on with a literary agent who was peddling my Social Security advice book to a variety of publishers. She finally found one that was interested in the book. The manuscript was approved by a series of editors, all of whom thought the book was marketable and had good potential. We just needed the approval of the head of the publishing house, and I would have been on my way to the best-seller lists!

But that publisher turned the book deal down. She said it was an excellent guidebook and great source of information about Social Security for people of all ages. "But," she explained, "we all know that the Social Security program will soon be reformed, and those changes will instantly put your book out of date."

Well, that was almost a decade ago. Social Security still hasn't been reformed, and my manuscript is just gathering dust on my bookshelf.

I like to tell that story when people ask me about any imminent changes to Social Security. The message is: "Don't hold your breath." Everyone knows (well almost everyone knows) that Social Security needs to be reformed due to the financial burdens placed on the system by baby boomers that are turning into senior boomers in record numbers. Something like 10,000 boomers file for Social Security every day!

Policy planners and politicians have known about this for decades. And for years, people have been talking about Social Security reform. But no one does anything about it.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Liberals and Democrats deserve their share of the blame because they usually tend to put their heads in the sand and say: "What Social Security problem?"

Conservatives and Republicans deserve praise for being willing to discuss Social Security reform. But then they also deserve their share of the blame because they frequently propose outlandish and totally unworkable solutions to the problem (such as "privatizing" the program).

And the public at large deserves their share of the blame because they say they want reform, but they tend to vote otherwise. As I've pointed out many times in this column, if I ran for Congress on a platform of increasing the Social Security retirement age to 68, reducing future cost-of-living increases and raising the amount of income subject to Social Security tax (three viable solutions to Social Security's long range fiscal problems); my opponent would run attack ads claiming that "a vote for Tom Margenau is a vote against seniors and working people"), and I would lose the election in a landslide.

And a recent episode illustrates the games politicians (on both sides of the aisle) play when it comes to Social Security.

As I alluded to earlier, Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for frequently refusing to put Social Security on the table. And Republicans should be praised for being willing to discuss "entitlement reform."

As part of the ongoing budget negotiations between President Obama and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, the president bucked the pressure he felt from some members of his own party and proposed a reduction in future cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients.

So you'd think that Republicans would have greeted that proposal with open arms. But what happened? Many of them immediately took to the airwaves and their Twitter accounts to blast the President for "trying to balance the budget on the backs of our poor deserving senior citizens." And that was the same thing many liberal Democrats had said when the president proposed COLA reforms in the first place.

Do you see why Social Security reform can be so maddening and frustrating? Do you see why there is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of any meaningful changes? Do you see why Democrats should be ashamed of themselves? Do you see why Republicans should be ashamed of themselves? Do you see why the people/voters should be ashamed of themselves?

I guess everyone wants reform, but they want reforms that impact the other guy. They don't want their Social Security checks reduced or their grandma's benefits cut, but they wouldn't mind if that other, less-deserving guy's benefits are reduced. And they don't want their Social Security taxes raised or their children's taxes raised, but they wouldn't mind if that other guy's payroll taxes are raised.

I have written a fact sheet that offers weighted solutions to Social Security's long-range financial problems. It not only lists proposed reforms, but it tells you how effective those reforms would be. In other words, it spells out how much of Social Security's long-range deficit would be wiped out by each reform. I will email you an electronic copy of this free fact sheet if you send a request to thomas.margenau@comcast.net. (This is the same fact sheet I've offered in past columns, so people who have requested it before won't need to get another one.)

 

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