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Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:49 PM

I hate the word 'entitlements'

by Leigh Pomeroy
Published in the Mankato Free Press, Nov. 30, under the title "Make 'entitlements' independent"

For too long Social Security and Medicare have been lumped together under the term "entitlements". Historically, entitlements have been what nobility received by right of birth, such as land, inheritance and title. But gradually the definition has been broadened to include a whole bevy of legal rights, including what American citizens have a right to by law. Thus, Social Security and Medicare are now called "entitlements", a term that has (not by accident) gained a negative connotation in political parlance.

Let's get this straight: Social Security is a retirement and benefits program and Medicare is a health insurance program, both run by the federal government. Yet they are in trouble now because Congress and successive presidents have not been forthright to their customers, the American people, about financing them.

If Social Security and Medicare were administered by the private sector, premiums would be adjusted to cover outlays in order for the insurer or administrator to remain solvent. But they are not. They are administered by the president as CEO and by Congress as the board of directors, both of whom have collectively shirked their duties to raise premiums to pay for current and future outlays. If they were the upper management and board of directors of an insurance company, they would be (or should be) fired.

Numerous solutions have been proposed to correct the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls. Some are surprisingly simple in implementing but nearly impossible politically. But since politics rule the day, unfortunately we are stuck in a miasma with the problem only getting worse.

However, one solution and I would argue the best solution is not even being discussed, and that is to spin Social Security and Medicare off into independent, self-financed nonprofit government-owned entities.

There are similar models in this country with varying levels of success. The Federal Reserve is relatively independent from political winds and whims, though under Greenspan and even Bernanke it eschewed its responsibility in favor of crazy Ayn Randian theory, which helped bring about the crash of 2008.

The Postal Service should have been independent, but Congress has seen fit to hog-tie it with requirements and limitations so that it's more or less bound to fail. (The British Postal Service is a much better example of a government-owned institution that has been allowed to keep up with the times.)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are, of course, ridiculous constructs designed to make lots of money for a few insiders while guaranteeing losses to taxpayers.

All are flawed to a greater or lesser degree, but knowing what works and what doesn't with these and other models allows us to design a better system.

Social Security and Medicare can be set up to be run by professional administrators and independent, nonpartisan boards empowered with guaranteeing certain benefits and certain levels of care according to broad constructs set by law. These constructs would be adjusted from time to time perhaps every six years in the odd year (so that political hijinks would affect the decision-making less, or hopefully so). The rest of the time the administrators and boards of Social Security and Medicare would deal with the details without political interference, including benefit adjustments and cost of the premiums and how those are allocated across the general population.

No system is perfect, but one of this type run by professional administrators and boards (not politicians), and monitored by independent inspectors general (to keep the administrators honest), would no doubt be much more effective than what we have today.

We need to send this message to Congress and the president: It's time to stop playing political football with so-called "entitlements" and time to start treating these very popular and for the most part successful programs as what they are much needed health insurance and retirement benefits for every American citizen.

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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply I hate the word 'entitlements' (Original post)
Unknown Beatle Dec 2012 OP
geckosfeet Dec 2012 #1
Cleita Dec 2012 #2
one_voice Dec 2012 #4
Democracyinkind Dec 2012 #3
loyalsister Dec 2012 #5
Cleita Dec 2012 #7
loyalsister Dec 2012 #9
Cleita Dec 2012 #11
loyalsister Dec 2012 #13
Cleita Dec 2012 #14
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #6
Junkdrawer Dec 2012 #10
TexasBushwhacker Dec 2012 #8
Cleita Dec 2012 #12

Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:52 PM

1. They are only entitlements if you aren't a corporation or rich.

Huge tax breaks, preferred "lending", bailouts on demand, 15% tax rates on income - hey - they deserve it.

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Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:04 PM

2. On Chris Hayes show this morning he has renamed them

social insurance. I like that and anytime someone brings up entitlements to me in the future, I will correct them and say, "You mean social insurance, don't you?"

On edit to further explain this position:

I have actually used this in the past. It opens the way for a conversation on what insurance is contrary to welfare. My step daughter was criticized for collecting unemployment when she got laid off. I said to her critics that it was insurance she had payed into and now she was collecting when she needed it. Just because the government collects the premium and offers the benefit really doesn't make it any different.

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Response to Cleita (Reply #2)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:53 PM

4. I like that...

Social Insurance. Going to start using that too.

I hate when they use entitlement, and I hear Dems do it too. We need to contact our Senators/Congress crittters and tell then to knock it the hell off.

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Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:50 PM

3. Don't let Repub Newspeak win


Damn it, back in the seventies even libertarian godheads like Robert Nozick used "entitlements" to describe the most legitimate form of possession. This is the only instance in which "if it's good enough for libertarians, it's good enough for me" applies.

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Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:09 PM

5. I hate it, too

It combines two concepts into one. The mistaken notion that there is essentially an account to which a person is an entitled, and the idea that it is something that people unreasonably demand.

I once heard it identified as "poverty protection." A concept that somewhat fits the application, but would place it in the unfairly derided "welfare" if it were used. Means testing seems like a fairly reasonable reform in theory, but I fear it would be used against people the same way welfare was.

It is hard for me to imagine more appropriate politically neutral language, but I wish someone would find it!

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Response to loyalsister (Reply #5)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:24 PM

7. Means testing for these programs is a false equivalency.

They are in fact insurance programs administered by the government. Should your car or house insurance means' test your eligibility to receive benefits if you should need it? I mean, if you can actually afford to fix that dented fender, should this be the basis for them denying you compensation?

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Response to Cleita (Reply #7)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:38 PM

9. False equivalency?

Private corporation vs. a government program, maybe

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Response to loyalsister (Reply #9)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:44 PM

11. Why not?

Means testing is for welfare programs. It assumes people have not bought into an insurance program or made some contribution or whatever you want to call it expecting a service or payment in return depending on what contract they agreed to. Whether it's government or corporate doesn't matter. If they have contributed to a program, then it's not welfare and should never be means' tested.

Every time conservatives bring up this means' testing BS like it even would be legitimate in this instance, makes my blood boil.

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Response to Cleita (Reply #11)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:07 PM

13. So, people who have contributed along with their spouses and families

should not have access to some insurance to get them through that situation? Is it the program or the word welfare that offends you?

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Response to loyalsister (Reply #13)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:16 PM

14. Could you explain that a little better?

If I read you correctly, you seem to think I am against welfare. I'm not. They are apples and oranges. I do believe welfare is necessary for those who can't work, aren't rich and/or for whom work isn't available. It should be means tested. Otherwise what is to stop people who are rich from applying for it and collecting it? On the other hand, if a rich person has paid into Social Security all his life with the understanding he will be eligible for it when he turns 65 he should not be denied it even if he is filthy rich. That is the contract.

Now I know there is a fuzzy place here where people with disabilities can collect Social Security and it is means tested. I don't think it should be for lower income people but it is. Warren Buffett would not be able to get SSDI, however, he can get old age Social Security when he's 65. I hope you understand the difference I'm getting at. The conservatives want to means test social security so that old people who saved all their lives to have enough to live off of comfortabley between a pension and Social Security will have that taken away from them and probably they will descend into poverty.

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Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:24 PM

6. your post is erroneous. specifically, this:

 

"If Social Security and Medicare were administered by the private sector, premiums would be adjusted to cover outlays in order for the insurer or administrator to remain solvent. But they are not. They are administered by the president as CEO and by Congress as the board of directors, both of whom have collectively shirked their duties to raise premiums to pay for current and future outlays."

1) There's $2.7 TRILLION in the SS Trust Fund, the result of 30 years of collecting more than needed to fund the program & maintain a 'cushion' in the TF -- historically about a years worth.

2. SS is *still* in surplus.

3. The TF is *supposed to* to be repaid from the income tax when the boomers start retiring: that was the point of the Reagan-era fix that mandated the 30 years of over-payments. According to the SS Trustees, the surplus won't be near-depletion for about 20 years -- & even more, if the economy ever returns to baseline.

4. Consequently there is no rush to do a damn thing about SS. The supposed urgency is an artificial creation, intended to stampede the public into supporting the preferred solutions of finance capital.


Oh, & entitlements is a perfectly good word. It means people are entitled to the benefit they funded.


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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #6)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:43 PM

10. Exactly. For 29 years SS payments REDUCED the deficit. But the MINUTE it came time to pay it back..

we're told we're blood sucking leaches.

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Response to Unknown Beatle (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:26 PM

8. How about "Earned Benefit"?

After all, you don't get Social Security unless you have contributed a minimum number of quarters and the amount you get is based on the amount you contributed, up to a limit. Even survivors benefits are only available if the deceased contributed to the system for 10 years. SSDI is paid to disabled people who paid into the system. SSI is paid to the disabled who have never been able to work and it's poverty level income. Medicare is the same. It is an earned benefit.

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Response to TexasBushwhacker (Reply #8)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:45 PM

12. Earned benefit, although accurate, seems to fall into the same

pit as entitlement. The right can twist it enough to change the meaning. It will be shortened to benefit and then can be made to seem to be welfare. Social insurance on the other hand even if shortened to insurance, isn't so easy to twist in meaning.

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