Let"s talk about Social Security. Halt! You, the Generation Xer, who, upon reading sentence one, groaned and began to turn the page. Release the edge of the page and hear me out. I know you"re not counting on receiving Social Security; I"m an Xer myself, and I don"t expect to receive a monthly check from Uncle Sam when I"m a septuagenarian. Still, Social Security should be an issue of great concern to our generation. Stick with me, and I"ll explain why. During the 2000 campaign, Bush Jr. proposed privatizing the Social Security system by allowing people to divert a portion of their taxes into personal investment accounts. Two years and 3,000 fewer points on the Nasdaq later, we find Bush downplaying the privatization idea. Democrats smell blood in the water, though, and are attempting to use Bush"s privatization stance to frighten risk-averse seniors.
While the parties disagree on the issue of tinkering with Social Security, both sides agree - and persistently emphasize - that benefits should not be reduced, the retirement age should not be raised and the payroll tax should not be increased.
As Bush says in a videotape used in Republican town hall meetings: "I"m committed to modernization that will not change Social Security benefits for retirees or near-retirees. No changes, no reductions, no way."
With the first wave of the 76 million Baby Boomers qualifying for Social Security benefits in 2008, can we afford to keep the benefits rolling in without raising payroll taxes? Call me a cynical Xer, but I think Bush"s pledge has as much chance of holding up as his pappy"s promise of "No new taxes."
Boomers like Bush now dominate at all levels of government. In Indiana, for example, Boomers occupy nine of 12 seats in Congress. These Boomers are governing with the same we-can-have-it-all, consequences-be-damned bravado that has defined their generation. Ignoring fiscal realities, Boomer politicians have contemporaneously increased spending and slashed taxes. Last spring, Congress approved Bush"s massive $1.35 trillion tax cut. Coinciding with a recession, the tax cut accelerated the evaporation of the federal budget surplus. In fact, the federal government now finds itself drowning in red ink. The Senate recently raised the federal debt ceiling by $750 billion in response to warnings from the Treasury Department that, without the increase, it would be forced to default on payments to the Social Security trust fund.
Has the rising debt led to fiscal discipline? Of course not. The pace of spending has been fast and furious. Some pricey examples: a 15 percent increase in military spending, to $379 billion in 2003; $190 billion to subsidize farmers; $37 billion for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. Other priorities for Boomer pols include a Medicare prescription drug benefit and a permanent repeal of the estate tax, carrying budget-busting price tags of $350 billion and $600 billion respectively.
Justifiable spending increases? In some cases, yes. But with less tax revenue coming in, who"ll pick up the tab for today"s costly expenditures?
Xers and everyone after, that"s who.
In spite of the tremendous wealth created by the stock market gains of the last 20 years, millions of Boomers have failed to save enough for retirement. According to the 2002 Retirement Confidence Survey, 30 percent of people between the ages of 40 and 59 have saved less than $25,000 for retirement. These folks are banking on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid taking care of them during their "Golden Years." With the federal deficit spiraling out of control, taxes will need to be jacked way up in order to pay Boomers their benefits. This tax burden will fall on our generation, the ones who"ve borne the brunt of the layoffs during the current economic downturn, the ones who face staggering student loans, the ones who"ve been priced out of the housing market.
What"s an Xer to do? The answer is simple: We must vote. Politicians listen to those who cast ballots. As it stands, a 70 year old is more likely to vote than a 30 year old; hence, politicians cater to older voters" interests.
Should the Xer electorate fail to take action, Boomer and senior interests will continue to be served. By the time Xers dominate positions of power, the federal budget may very well be irreparably busted. Retired Boomers will expect us to significantly increase payroll taxes so that they can continue to receive the same level of benefits. After all, they paid into the system, and their president made a promise to them: "No changes, no reductions, no way." Remind us of his pledge, and we will respond with a collective, "Bite me!" Social Security recipients will be cut from the rolls faster than a Boomer CEO can say "rightsizing." The so-called "lockbox" will be tossed into the sea (which, thanks to global warming, will by then have consumed all the land west of the Rockies).
If this sounds like an acceptable solution, please reconsider. When the safety net falls apart, are you going to let your parents crash to the ground? I doubt it. You will take them in and provide them with care. This care will come at a cost, financially and emotionally. If you don"t believe me, spend a few hours at a local nursing home; then imagine that scene unfolding in your living room. We love our parents, but that love need not be manifested in cleaning their soiled sheets and swaddling them in diapers. That"s taking it a step too far in the circle of life.
Beginning with this year"s elections, Xers must hold accountable the free-spendin", tax-slashin" Boomers who, if left unchecked, will run up a staggering amount of debt and expense it to our generation.