is the title of this post at Center for American Progress It's subject becomes more clear with the subtitle: Rep. Ryan Clearly Targets Seniors as He Seeks Taxes Cuts for the Wealthy.
The author is Scott Lilly, currently a senior fellow at CAP, and a long-time staffer to Rep. David Bonior, including serving as Staff Director for the Dems on the House Appropriations Committee.
I wanted to call this post to your attention because with Paul Ryan again becoming highly visible, you will want the information it contains in order to push back at what Ryan is again attempting to do, and with which far too many "reasonable" Democrats seem willing to negotiate, even accept.
Ryan makes a false argument, that programs such as Social Security and Medicare, because they are not for the most part income-adjusted, have resulted in a a decreasing share of transfer payments going to the bottom 20% of income and an increased share going to wealthy Americans. Yet, as Lilly quotes Ryan,
There is something wrong with our government transfer programs if they are increasingly steering assistance to the wealthy.Lilly immediately responsd:
Wait a minute. Where does the term wealthy come from? Rep. Ryan is right, Social Security and Medicare Payments have grown dramatically since 1979 when there were only 25 million people in America over the age of 65. But are they rich? Recent U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 30 percent of seniors are actually in the bottom 20 percent of all households by income. But what about the rest? A majority of the remainder is in the bottom half of all households—and most of them would be in the bottom 20 percent, too, if it weren’t for Social Security and Medicare, the very programs Rep. Ryan wants to cut.Please keep reading.
Lilly provides data in a variety of formats. For example,
In 2010, the latest year for which complete statistics were available, there were 25 million households in which the householder was 65 or older. Of those 7.8 million or 31 percent had annual household income of less than $20,000. Another 9.8 million or 38 percent of those households had annual incomes between $20,000 and $50,000. The average annual Social Security benefit is $14,760, and the average annual Medicare benefit per enrollee is $11,762. This means about 7 out of 10 people living in elderly households are either in the bottom 20 percent or would be if they lost their Social Security or had to pay their medical costs out of pocket.He then provides that data in the form of a table with information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Census Bureau.
Lilly acknowledges that there are 4 million elderly households with incomes >$150,000, or about 4% of the total elderly households.
But of course, neither Social Security nor Medicare are support programs in the way Ryan attempts to portray them. Both require seniors to contribute to them while they were working, and both are already means-tested, as Allan Sloan pointed out in a recent Washington Post piece.
Lilly goes into detail, but here I can speak from experience. I have been receiving Social Security since the start of the year, as I turn 66 in about two months. But I do not receive payment for all to which I am entitled, as I am still working: 85% of my Social Security benefits are subject to Federal income taxes, so that it deducted from my benefits before i receive them. Similarly, were I to be taking medical coverage (which I am not since I am still covered by an employer plan) I would have a payment for that also deducted from my Social Security benefit, as I amy well encounter should I retire at the end of this school year.
Lilly quotes from Sloan's detailed analysis - someone who retired at 66 with full social security benefits at the highest level would, as a result of changes begun under Ronald Reagan, and with a current life-expectancy to 84, will receive only about 60% of what he and his employer had paid into the system. The taxes paid on the benefits would be fed back into the system. And remember, Social Security is paid from a trust fund paid into while the employee was working.
As far Ryan's supposed argument that he cares about the poor, which is why he wants to go after programs for senior? Let me let Lilly lay that out:
Based on data published on his committee’s website he slashed Medicaid by more than $771 billion over 10 years, which would cut millions of poor children, seniors, and people with disabilities from eligibility. He is particularly savage on the category he lists as “other mandatory,” which includes programs such as Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families, Temporary Aid for Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income—funding them at only 75 percent of the level the Congressional Budget Office estimates as necessary to maintain current service levels. An analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities demonstrated that more than two-thirds of his budget cuts come from programs that help low-income families. Now he’s all of a sudden concerned about the poor?What then is Ryan doing? It's simple:
He needs to slash huge amounts from federal retirement programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.Remember, Ryan is a true believer in the Republican orthodoxy of cutting taxes for the wealthy, from rates of 35% to 25%, which would starve the federal government of hundreds of billions needed to pay for other programs, including programs for the poor. How can he make that up? He has to go after other revenues.
Read the entire Lilly posting. Keep it handy for pushback. And remember especially its final paragraph:
So Rep. Ryan’s March 5 column about taking from the rich (defined as old people living on more than $20,000 a year) and giving to the poor is in fact about taking from the elderly and giving to the rich—akin to a double reverse in football. Let’s hope the defensive backfield in Congress stays alert.Perhaps we should be glad that the defensive backfield includes far fewer Blue Dogs to add the patina of "bi-partisanship" to what Ryan is trying to do. Unfortunately there are still some in the Senate, including my own Senator Mark Warner, who seem willing to go after benefits for seniors, as does the AARP, the nation's largest organization for seniors.
Let me add an observation on cognitive discourse. Ryan seems to think the elderly making more than $20,000/year are "rich." And yet he and other Republicans seem to think families making more than $250,000/year somehow are not, even though they represent the top 2% of American families. Remember during the Democratic debates in 2008 Charlie Gibson being surprised that households with teachers and firemen and police did not make that much?
I am glad to share my friend Scott Lilly's cogent piece with the community. Use it as you see best.