At the moment, HuffPost headlines, "WILL DEMS CAVE ON SOCIAL SECURITY?"
Pundits summarize, Democrats won't "give on entitlements" and Republicans won't increase taxes. As if it's all just a poker game and the details are of no concern!
That frame is spent. It's a loser mentality, imprecise to such a maximal degree that it's false.
Americans believe in Social Security. We want it. So say that.
If the budget needs changing change something but no voters want to reduce Social Security. And politicians will not be measured on if they "caved" or not or what accounting gimmicks are utilized in the budget but on the details. We care about the details.
Americans of both parties, in every state, in cities and in rural regions, have affirmed over and over again that Social Security and Medicare are national assets, valuable, worth paying for and treasured as money well saved and well spent. It's upon that premise that if and when adjustments are necessary to raise funding or benefits then it's the responsibility of the government, both parties, with data and recommendations from their supporting organizations - the Social Security Administration (SSA) for Social Security and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for Medicare - to make whatever changes are required for healthy, sustainable functioning.
The economy, the population, and demographics will always change but that requires adjustments in the overall budget and other priorities, not the foundational commitments the entire nation shares.
If, as is being implied in the reporting and framing, the long term deficit trends indicate some adjustments must be made in the accounting, funding, benefits, of other budget priorities to meet legislative obligations then Congress is on point to legislate solutions. No dilution of the programs can pass unnoticed; no cuts will be acceptable. Strengthen the fiscal health of the overall budget that responsibly administers for and to the people.
The task at hand is not to cave or not to cave on "entitlements" but work to build a responsible budget that pays for the nation's priorities listed in the Constitution or legislation.
An entitlement is a right with guaranteed access. Sadly, Social Security and Medicare are not based on Constitutionally enumerated "rights" nor are they guaranteed in any way. They're legislated law of the land. Medicare is not "earned" either since the vast majority of Medicare recipients will receive far more than they contributed. To make matters worse, Social Security benefits can be changed by Congress anytime - raised or lowered! No guarantees. Nothing in the Constitution defines Social Security or Medicare as rights or codifies expected levels of benefits. A shame. So, no, they're not entitlements anyway.
If actual constructive "reform" was possible (which it isn't, but if it was ...) these benefits should become reliable, codified entitlements - rights - with established guarantees and expectations people can plan their lives and business decisions around, decoupled entirely from employments and freed from the economy's cycles, seasons, and structural and systematic changes, sustainably funded. Workers, employers, employees, large, small, and independent businesses would all improve and become globally competitive with such reform.
Of course there are fiscal issues and policy changes needing attention, albeit unrelated to the national debt or the current deficit.
Social Security, as an example, was designed to supplement other retirement savings and since retirement savings instruments are either broken or becoming obsolete then federal policy and legislative remedies are needed. Such expert testimonies have been made to Congress for decades.
Also Social Security is designed to be modified as the world around it changes. Collections and benefits can and have changed as time, the economy, and demographics shift.
ImHo, a high priority need is for a single retirement savings instrument to replace inconsistent and unreliable 401k accounts, a new instrument impermeable to early withdrawals or market conditions, and one that allows for the fact that so few pensions are offered nowadays.
There is a real but relatively minor need anticipated by the SSA to once again shore up withholdings - probably by raising caps, maybe increasing withholdings. As one of the many who believe that part of strengthening Social Security should include an increase in benefits, I understand that such changes will and should translate into increases in my taxes.
I argue further that there is a strategic requirement to develop one modern retirement savings solution, fully decoupled from employers, one with integrity all generations can plan their lives around and rely on.
So while Social Security and Medicare are not technically entitlements, I hope we embrace the notion of "entitlements" and tax ourselves to build them. All Americans - employees, employers, and those who can't work - will be most healthy and will thrive from cradle to grave when they can budget with trusted, well defined benefits they can rely on and lives they can pay for.
These are important and easily solvable problems with affordable, easily achievable solutions.
Democrats don't have to be corralled into this to-cave-or-not-to-cave mentality that misses the whole point of budgeting.
Accurately frame the reasonable government responsibilities and maybe reasonable government decisions will be possible.