Saturday, February 10, 2007

California Senators and Social Security - Tweedle Dumb, and Tweedle Dumber

Today a friend reminded me of how angry I got 25 years ago at a stupid remark by California Senator Alan Cranston. He had decided that a terrible abuse of Social Security was being perpetrated by the military. According to Senator Cranston, the United States military, particularly its officers, indulged in an unethical, if not illegal, practice he called “double dipping.”

He defined "double dipping" as retiring from the military and collecting retirement pay, and then getting a civilian job and paying into Social Security long enough to qualify for payments along with military retired pay. Senator Cranston said this was a terrible injustice, to not pay into Social Security during military service, yet work long enough after retirement to draw both. “This disgraceful double-dipping by the military at taxpayer expense must end,” he said, or words to that effect.

What the idiot senator (or at least his multitudinous inept staffers) should have known, but was too stupid to find out, was that the military have paid into Social Security since 1957. Civilian employees of the federal government, not military, didn’t pay into Social Security, then took early retirement, got a job where they paid into Social Security for at least the minimum required ten years – forty quarters – and then drew both federal retirement and full Social Security.

The strong supporters of Democrats, the federal government employees, were the double-dipping scoundrels! The military, a stronghold of Republican support, were blameless. However, many citizens think it was the other way, and some still think that the military don’t pay into Social Security and can "double dip," even to this day.

My friend was one of them.

Since Cranston made a big stink when he accused the military of double dipping, but never publicly corrected himself, most people never learned the truth.

Pause for a moment and consider these facts. When he made his totally erroneous, thoughtless, and careless statement, Cranston had been a United States Senator for twelve years. He served in the Army in World War II, and one of his Senate positions was Chairman, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It seems that somewhere along the line, he or one of his many staff assistants would have discovered what I did when I enlisted in the Air Force in 1962: I only made about $97 a month then, not enough to pay income tax, but nevertheless 3.125% was taken from every dollar I earned and dumped into Social Security.

Later, when Medicare was added, the military got to pay into it just like everyone else, even though when we enlisted we had been promised free military health care for life if we served to retirement. So here we were, paying into a system we would never use (we thought). Then we got the next surprise. No more free military health care for life. As soon as we reached 65, we were to be dumped into the Medicare pool, and be persona non grata at military hospitals.

I hope you don’t have to be retired military to understand what a kick in the teeth this change meant. Many retirees had built their lives around living near a large military installation with, among other things, a large hospital. There they and their spouses received excellent health care for possibly ten to fifteen years after retirement, and then when they turned 65, they were no longer welcome. At that point they might have to travel many miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, to get treated in an equivalent civilian facility. Fortunately the military recognized the injustice this created, and established Tricare for Life, which integrates Medicare with military health care.

Getting back to Cranston, he would have been right about the military if he had been talking about the period 1940 through 1956, because during that period no federal employees including the military paid into Social Security. In 1957 the military came under Social Security, but civilian employees of the federal government didn’t have to pay into Social Security until 1984, and then only if they wanted to or were hired after 1984.

Maybe Cranston finally figured it out and helped make the change to bring federal civilian employees into Social Security after he got my angry letter asking him “how in Hell could a veteran United States senator get such a simple and fundamental fact about who was paying into Social Security bass-ackwards?”

I got a reply from him that indicated he and his staffers either ignored me, or couldn’t understand that I was telling them they screwed up.

His even dumber successor as a California senator, Barbara Boxer, has continued Cranston’s tradition of hiring staffers who reply to my letters without ever comprehending any of my issues. I take that back. Once one of Boxer’s replies actually covered the issue I brought up, but Boxer thanked me for my support when my letter clearly conveyed that I disagreed totally with her position. In fact, like Cranston before her, I don’t think she understands Social Security, even though since 1984 Congressmen have been paying into it.

That’s right. Congressmen, like Cranston, used to be able to practice “double dipping” too.

Maybe the weak brains of Democrats like Cranston and Boxer explains why they can’t understand that Social Security will be bankrupt in a decade. What does “Social Security will be bankrupt” mean? It means in about ten years Social Security will be paying out more cash than it is taking in.

“No problem,” say the Democrats, “Social Security has a $1.7 trillion Trust Fund to draw on.”

Really? What’s in that Trust Fund?

“Oh, the Trust Fund is holding special government bonds.”

Ah so, so Social Security will be able to redeem those bonds for cash and continue to pay all the newly eligible Baby Boomers, right?

“Well, not quite. You see, if the government buys back the Trust Fund bonds with cash to then be distributed to Social Security recipients, that cash has to come from other government sources. The only way the other government sources can come up with the cash is to raise taxes, cut expenses, and borrow more.”

Like robbing Peter to pay Paul?

“Not really. It’s more like robbing both Peter and Paul to pay Paul, because other government services enjoyed by Social Security recipients will be cut, Social Security will be reduced when recipients continue to work, and sales taxes, property taxes, and fees will go up to replace the budget cuts required to continue paying full Social Security benefits.”

Well, at least benefits won’t be cut, correct?

“Sorry, benefits will have to be cut too. Social Security eligibility ages will rise, benefits will be means tested, but even after that it won’t be enough to save Social Security.”

So what happens then?

“Simple. Social Security contributions by younger workers will be raised, and then raised again, and … Do you get the picture?”

Will that save Social Security then?

“Probably not. The higher Social Security contributions will mess up the United States economy really bad. In fact, while the economy is struggling paying the extremely high costs of the fruitless attempts to turn back natural global warming, the increased Social Security taxes will probably administer the coup de grace, the killer blow.”

What do we do then?

“Don’t wait. Head for Australia or New Zealand before the rush starts. Or go to Mexico. Mexico will have a lot of room if you get there before all the illegals head back.”

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