Monday, January 24, 2005

Stupid Idea #124,784

Linking Social Security Benefits to Gender, Race
Prominent GOP congressman proposes tying Social Security Benefits to race, gender
The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles finances, floated the prospect of tying Social Security benefits to sex and race on Sunday during Tim Russert's "Meet the Press."


MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you something else you said at the National Journal Forum that raised some eyebrows: "Women are living longer relative to men today than they were in 1940. Yet, we never ever have debated gender-adjusting Social Security. ...But, at some point if the age difference continues to separate and more women are in the workforce and you have more of an equality of pay structure in the workforce, at some point somebody might want to suggest that we need to take a look at the question of whether or not actuarially we ought to adjust who gets what, when, and how."

A gender adjustment--what does that mean?

REP. THOMAS: Well, it was one of my ways of getting people to focus on the issue of age. To move from 65 to 68, which we did in 1983, was a benefit cut. But it also creates hardships based upon the occupation that you have, and it creates inequities on who you are and how long you live. You could just as easily have a discussion about occupations as to when would be a fair or an unfair time to require. We also need to examine, frankly, Tim, the question of race in terms of how many years of retirement do you get based upon your race? And you ought not to just leave gender off the table because that would be a factor.

Now, there are people who are saying, "Gee, this is great. We can get them into a box and maybe we can win some seats in the next election over this issue." This ought not to be about the next election. This is about how we have an opportunity given to us by the president, his willingness to work with us to solve some problems that are here and now, but will only get worse. If we're not in a crisis now, we're in a problem. Wait a few years. We will be in a crisis. We ought to examine all opportunities to solve the problem. Then we can dismiss them. But to not look at them denies us an opportunity to have yet another way to solve our problem.

MR. RUSSERT: So if someone is a woman and they live longer, they would get less per year?

REP. THOMAS: It's not that you would do it; it's something that you need to look at. Because if you extend the age beyond 78, if you go to 80 or 82, all of those concerns about race, occupation and gender are exacerbated. And you shouldn't just extend the age without understanding the additional complications and unfairness that you're bringing into the system. That's the point I'm trying to make. Don't look for a simple solution like shifting age without realizing you're creating additional problems for yourself down the road. Same thing with payroll tax. Same thing with individual accounts or other ways to bring additional revenue in the system. All of them should be examined. None of them should be labeled with the pejorative with an opportunity to try to gain seats in the next election. You are doing a disservice to the society if that's your intention in this debate. My goal is to get it as broad as possible, look for bipartisan support and give the president a bill on his desk that he can sign that addresses the real societal inequities that we have with seniors.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Congress, Mr. Chairman, would accept any formula that said that people would be treated differently because of their gender or their race?

REP. THOMAS: If we discuss it and the will is not to do it, fine. At least we discussed it. To simply raise the age and find out that you've got gender, race and occupational problems later, I would not be doing the kind of service that I think I have to do. You and I have been around quite a while. We went through the '80s. We went into the '90s. And now we're in the 21st century. We saw the choices that were made in the past. We went to the well over and over again with the same old solutions which really aren't solutions. We've reached the point where we have to fundamentally examine it in my opinion. The president has given us that opportunity. We ought to take it.

Yep, let's use all the hot points to keep this out in front. Just don't look at the other hand holding the Medicare/Medicaid cards.