We’re all in this together
The number of older Americans is increasing at a far more rapid rate than previously due to rising longevity and the aging of the 78 million baby boomers (now starting to turn 65).
At the same time, our struggling economy and persistent joblessness are threatening the quality of life of Americans in general.
Both of these factors portend tremendous effects on Social Security and Medicare, not to mention our healthcare system and workforce in the years to come.
For these reasons and others, I think it’s time we and our political leaders stop living in denial and take some serious steps to get our country’s financial house in order and plan ahead for the challenges of the coming decades.
The bipartisan deficit commission appointed by President Obama to make recommendations for balancing the federal budget and reducing the national debt has been quietly focusing on this task for the past few months.
With a report due December 1, the co-chairs of the commission released a “discussion proposal” in early November. It may be only a trial balloon. (Many, including members of the commission itself, have been shooting arrows at it ever since.)
But even without evaluating the particulars, I think it’s a very important step if only because it calls for painful sacrifices by almost every possible constituency, and offers some counterbalancing sweeteners as well.
Among other things, it proposes slashing Pentagon spending, cutting federal agency budgets, ending special tax rates for capital gains and dividends, eliminating the tax deduction for home mortgage interest, taxing healthcare benefits given employees, raising the retirement age, cutting Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees, increasing payroll taxes, and cutting farm and student-loan subsidies.
On the sweeter side, it would also simplify the tax code, reduce tax rates for both individuals and corporations, and eliminate the alternative minimum tax.
The proposal carves out protections for the disadvantaged and low-income, of course, though they are not as generous as we, or they, might like to see. There is no group that won’t find something to complain about.
But I see that as a brilliant stroke, because each affected group can see that it isn’t being singled out for rough treatment. Everyone gets nicked in some fashion.
Reactions from naysayers have tended to be along the lines of, “Cutting back on X, Y and Z is great, but I will protect my constituency to the death.” We all know that exempting any particular group from sacrifice would lead to a cascade of exceptions and undermine the entire effort.
Here’s what the co-chairs — Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton, and former Republican Senator Alan K. Simpson — say at the forefront of the proposal: “The problem is real, the solution is painful, there’s no easy way out, everything must be on the table, and Washington must lead.”
I think this is the kind of statesmanship and bipartisanship we want — and have a right to demand — from our leaders.
But for this to succeed, we — the voters, the people ultimately bearing the burden and enjoying the benefits of a free society — must support such steps, and do so publicly.
And that also means telling those politicians who would try to exempt any particular constituency — particularly if we are members of that constituency — that this is not what we want, and that we are prepared to bear our share of the pain in support of the overall goal.
We’re all in this together, and that means we need to act like it. I urge you to contact your representatives and senators and let them know you support a comprehensive, balanced approach against the debt and budget deficits, and that you are willing to do your part as long as everyone else does theirs.
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