Elections 2012
Graphic: Emily Metcalf
Elections 2012
Graphic: Emily Metcalf

By Lowell L. Kalapa – We all have grown weary of yet another election season as the media blitz of advertisements blare or tweet to attract our attention.

While the repetitive droning on and on of political advertisements is irritating, voters need to pay attention to them and try to separate fact from emotion and rhetoric. At the national level, all the candidates seem to be appealing to the elderly vote, focusing on the possible threats to Social Security and Medicare. As they appeal to the elderly, the candidates adroitly fail to point out that any reforms of either the Social Security or Medicare systems will affect the benefits of those who are many years away from retirement. Any major changes made to shore up either of these two programs will not affect those who are already beneficiaries of the system.

Promises made by the candidates that they will “protect” Social Security and Medicare are just misleading as many acknowledge that in order to insure that the systems will remain viable changes or reforms will have to be made. Be it an increase in the tax on working individuals or raising the age at which full benefits can be claimed, all of those changes will be prospective.

Claims to save Social Security and Medicare amount to nothing more than fear mongering amongst the most vulnerable. In fact, if there are any changes to benefits even those who are about to retire probably will not be affected by those changes. But make no doubt about it, changes or reform must be made to not only the amount of tax but also the size of the benefits. Without those changes, the belief that many younger people hold about Social Security may just come to pass – that is – there will be no Social Security benefits for them when it comes time for them to retire.

With a shrinking workforce – that is there will be less workers paying into the Social Security system and with the increasing longevity of beneficiaries – that is those who are collecting benefits living a longer time, there can be no doubt that Social Security and Medicare are headed for disaster unless something is done to right the balance between those who pay into the system and those who are collecting benefits. More importantly, voters need to recognize that the payment of benefits for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs nearly twice as much as it does to run the federal government. So does Social Security have a problem? You bet it does and promises to protect the benefits totally ignore this problem. If nothing else, those who have yet to retire should be up in arms with the political rhetoric promising to protect Social Security.

Then there is the gaffe reference to cutting funding to Big Bird and his Sesame Street friends. While that may have been the politically incorrect reference, it does underscore the more seminal problem of where will elected officials make the cuts that will be necessary to achieve mandated reduction in federal spending come January first of next year? Under the mandate that went into effect when the Congressional teams negotiating a reduction in federal spending last year failed to reach a compromise, lawmakers will have to make $1.3 trillion in spending cuts.

That $1.3 trillion is just about the amount it costs to keep the doors of the federal government open for one year. So there is no doubt that cuts will have to be made elsewhere if the nation is to keep its defenses, provide for educational assistance, explore alternate energy resources, provide welfare assistance and the list goes on and on. One thing for sure is everyone’s favorite “ox” may be gored. The alternative is to go into even more debt which already stands at $16 trillion.

As was pointed out, the scary part about going into even deeper debt is that so much of our debt is held by foreign countries who do not necessarily have the best interests of our nation in mind including such “friends” as China. Hopefully, this would be a “no brainer” for our elected officials in Congress. We can continue to borrow and spend or we can make the hard decision to rein in our spending to what the American people can afford to surrender in taxes.

Of course, that prompts the discussion of raising taxes on the rich and saving the middle class and the poor. Unfortunately, there is only so much that can be pushed off on the rich who, by the way, have the resources to invest in America and create the jobs that we so badly need. No, unlike past challenges faced by our nation’s leaders, this one will have to be borne by all taxpayers either in the form of higher tax rates, closing the proverbial loopholes or in less services and programs. Everyone will have to “pay” for the solution to our nation’s financial ills.

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