Opinion | Fixes for Social Security and Medicare

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To the Editor:

Re “Biden’s Promises on Social Security and Medicare Ignore Financial Reality,” by Brian Riedl (Opinion guest essay, Feb. 23):

Mr. Riedl sets out the challenge posed by Social Security and Medicare programs in an aging country. Why have we come to this point? It is because the can has been kicked down the road for decades, and every time it is kicked it becomes bigger, so that it is now the size of an oil barrel.

As a society, we have preferred not to save for our old age but rather live as large as we could in the moment — this as recently as 2017 when we awarded ourselves a juicy tax cut.

Some members of the party that so enthusiastically pushed for and cheered that legislation are now sounding the Social Security/Medicare alarm.

Yes, everything must be on the table to address this issue (including the cost of our health care). Allow President Biden some latitude in setting out the political battle lines by shining a light on those lawmakers who see the solution mainly in terms of reneging on our promise to older Americans.

John Day
Port Washington, N.Y.

To the Editor:

My wife and I take nearly $40,000 a year in Social Security payments. We sit on a substantial seven-figure liquid net worth.

Of course we like the payment. Do we need it? No. Should we get that much? No. Would we be willing to forgo some or all of it? Yes. Should it be means-tested? Absolutely!

Do we think politicians, Democratic and Republican, have the courage to set such a course? No! And therein lies one of our current tragedies.

While there is little political courage in Washington, the spines of our political leaders could be stiffened if people of means and others demanded that the budget for Social Security be brought into line. So should other substantial costs such as the military and agriculture subsidies.

Let’s do it, people! Failing that, our children and grandchildren are in for a dreadful ride.

John A. Bacon Jr.
Exeter, N.H.

To the Editor:

Brian Riedl conflates the finances of Social Security and Medicare.

Social Security faces a modest financing shortfall, which can be eliminated by requiring the wealthiest to contribute on all of their income, including unearned investment income. The Social Security Expansion Act, recently introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would do just that, while expanding benefits substantially.

In contrast, Medicare’s financial challenges are a symptom of unsustainably high health care costs, private as well as public. It cannot control those costs on its own, even though it is considerably more efficient than private-sector health insurance.

Unaffordable health care is a uniquely American challenge. If the U.S. had the same per capita health care costs as virtually any other industrialized country in the world, the federal budget would project surpluses.

If Mr. Riedl is concerned about Medicare’s rising costs, he should encourage our elected leaders to get corporate profits out of health care.

Nancy J. Altman
Bethesda, Md.
The writer is president of Social Security Works.

To the Editor:

Re “A Standoff Over Social Security and Medicare” (Sunday Business, Feb. 19):

Social Security represents the perfect opportunity for bipartisan compromise. Here are four fixes.

First, no benefit increases should be considered until it is clear that the trust funds are on a sound financial footing for at least the next 50 years.

Second, the full retirement age should be gradually increased to age 70, or possibly the required minimum distribution age applicable to I.R.A.s and retirement plans (now age 73).

Third, currently no more than 85 percent of a recipient’s Social Security benefits is subject to federal income tax. This should be changed to 100 percent, with the increased revenue earmarked to the trust funds.

Fourth, all of an employee’s wages should be subject to Social Security tax, just as they are to the Medicare tax. However, wages in excess of the wage base (currently $160,200) should be taxed at 3.1 percent, which is one-quarter the regular 12.4 percent rate, with the employee paying half and the employer half. The tax rate could be increased to 6.2 percent for wages over $1 million or some other specified threshold.

The years, ages, percentages and dollar amounts can be negotiated and modified to ensure long-term trust fund solvency, but there is something here for both Democrats and Republicans.

Dudley Kimball
Ridgewood, N.J.

A Sweeping Asylum Ban

To the Editor:

Re “New Rule to Impose Crackdown on Asylum” (news article, Feb. 22):

The Biden administration’s sweeping asylum ban will shut the door to countless refugees seeking safety and protection in the United States. This policy is illegal and immoral, and will exact a frightening toll on children, women and men seeking safety.

Beyond the horrendous immediate human impact, the proposed asylum ban will also undermine efforts to facilitate regional cooperation on migration. The Biden administration touts the 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection as its signature foreign policy initiative in the Western Hemisphere, but this policy runs counter to it.

How can the United States encourage other governments to increase investments in asylum access and refugee resettlement while actively dismantling its own asylum access framework?

How can the United States claim to have a human rights-centered foreign policy while actively violating its international human rights commitments?

How can the United States credibly call on authoritarian governments to respect human rights and cease crackdowns on democracy advocates and human rights defenders, while simultaneously subjecting those same individuals seeking asylum to expulsion?

Abby Maxman
The writer is the president and C.E.O. of Oxfam America.

Pence’s Refusal to Testify

To the Editor:

Re “Pence Should Drop His Dangerous Ploy” (Opinion guest essay, Feb. 25):

Judge J. Michael Luttig warns former Vice President Mike Pence that he faces an “embarrassing spectacle” if it comes to the Supreme Court compelling Mr. Pence to testify to a federal grand jury.

It’s a sign of how exhausted we all have become that the simple fact of a former vice president refusing to cooperate with a criminal investigation of an attempted coup that targeted him for hanging isn’t itself deemed an embarrassing spectacle.

Saul Tannenbaum

Money for the Police

To the Editor:

Re “New York City Progressives Are Struggling to Define Themselves” (front page, Feb. 18):

Perhaps New York’s progressives could unify around a policy to “re-fund,” rather than “defund,” the police, where instead of decreasing funding, we reprioritize funding.

This would mean less money on military-style equipment, a lot more money on wages; less spending on current training methods that often lead to violent responses, and a lot more spending on new training methods focused on de-escalation; less money to hire officers with little or no advanced education, and a lot more money to hire officers with advanced degrees; less money to perpetuate the current police culture, a lot more money to support a new, less combative, more service-driven culture.

Jeffrey C. Johnson
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

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