Mark Zaccaria: “If the laws governing Social Security benefits provide inadequately for the needs of retirees, the answer is to revise the law, not to paper over the problem with a one-time payment that puts us all farther into the hole.”
On Friday, October 16th, 2009, the Providence Journal and other news outlets highlighted a story with great impact on senior citizens. Due to negative economic growth over the last 18 months recipients of Social Security retirement benefits will not receive a Cost of Living Allowance, or COLA increase, in their monthly checks during 2010. This is the first time since COLA increases were added to the benefit that economic conditions have not warranted them.
It was reported also that Rhode Island’s Second District representative in Congress, James Langevin, echoed the president’s call for a special one-time payout to Social Security recipients to compensate them for the otherwise flat rate of payment. While anyone would welcome an extra $250 next year, there are other approaches that our sitting Congressman might have taken under these circumstances.
As currently enacted, the law authorizing the payment of Social Security retirement benefits is intended to provide for stable purchasing power during times of price inflation. Since there has been none in the last 12 months, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), that goal should have been achieved with the level payment. So Mr. Langevin’s call for a cash bonus to our senior citizens must have been made for some other reason.
He might argue that Social Security retirement benefits are inadequate to keep seniors living comfortably. I might argue that, too. But does that mean a one time payment that probably will not bring seniors into a real comfort zone of income but will go away again in 2011 is the answer? Certainly not.
During his re-election campaign of 2008 Mr. Langevin complained bitterly about the multi-billion dollar deficits run up by the Bush Administration. Now, however he has willingly gone along with every heart stopping spending measure proposed by the Obama Administration, which now has our nation ringing up multi trillion dollar deficits. With numbers of that size being bandied about it seems that Mr. Langevin feels we can overlook the $20 billion increase in those deficits that will result from the one time spending he proposes to soften the blow to Social Security recipients.
His proposals ignore the fact that we do not have the money to pay for them. The United States of America can no more live on its high interest credit cards than you or I can, especially when we cannot foresee any future income that might help pay them off.
If the laws governing Social Security benefits provide inadequately for the needs of retirees the answer is to revise the law, not to paper over the problem with a one-time payment that puts us all farther into the hole. Mr. Langevin is a professional legislator, after all. Shouldn’t he work at his craft to forge a long term solution? Shouldn’t we consider his offer of a one-time check quite disingenuous since he knows very well it does nothing to fix the structural problems of the program? Is he really trying to make our proud retirees into indentured servants who have to come back to him every year asking, “Please, Sir, may I have more?”
Or do you think that there’s politics afoot? Could it be that the artificial concern over the long term independence of retirees on Social Security is there to mask some other purpose? Senior citizens, after all, have recently recognized that they have by far the most to loose under any of the multitude of national health insurance plans being floated this fall. Is the idea of a single $250 payment to pensioners really a Public Relations ploy to quiet them down on another subject?
We need financially sound, long term solutions to our problems, not trial balloon headlines that camouflage the real agenda of our political leadership. There is only one issue facing us as we begin to think about the 2010 Election. It is the financial stability of the nation. Unless we resolve that favorably we will be unable to tackle anything else. The deficits America has notched over the last few years, and especially over the last few months, are a cancer on each of our bank accounts. The coming price inflation they will trigger will certainly get our seniors their COLA bump in 2011. Unfortunately, even that will be of little practical benefit as the prices of everything we need are skyrocketing.
New England Patriots Coach, Bill Belichick, has an oft quoted motto painted on the wall of the team’s locker room: Do Your Job. We need our political leaders to pay heed to that sentiment now, more than ever. Unless they do, they will not properly represent the needs of the people who elected them. The result will be economic servitude for all of us, not just those trying to get by on Social Security.
Mark Zaccaria of North Kingstown is running for Congress in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District.