John Culleton: Beware prevalence of Newspeak

Too often Republican spokesmen indulge in Orwellian Newspeak.

They seek to "reform" social safety net programs, not by improving their benefits, but by reducing them to near total ineffectiveness. And too often the press reiterates that Newspeak as if it were true.

Part of that right-leaning Newspeak is to suggest that by reducing the benefits of Social Security and Medicare they will somehow reduce the national debt. In fact, these social programs are funded through trust funds that, in turn, buy government bonds to help finance the national debt. Not a penny of general revenue taxes goes into these trust funds.

Let's get down to specifics. The retirement, survivors and disability programs of Social Security and their trust funds can be funded into the far future without any adverse impact on either most wage earners or most beneficiaries by two simple changes. First, we can raise or even abolish the cap on the FICA tax. Most of us will see no difference. Those who pay a little more FICA tax need not be upset. When they retire they will get bigger benefits because of raising the cap.

Next, instead of continually raising the retirement age, Congress can reinstitute a meaningful retirement test. These programs are designed to replace lost income. If you continue to work and earn at or near your previous income, you haven't retired. You don't need to double-dip.

These two changes would preserve present benefits and fund the Social Security trust funds into the far future, most likely for the rest of the current century. Indeed, we could eventually lower the retirement age again. Those who do heavy manual labor should not be expected to work beyond 65 years of age. By taking these older workers out of the workforce sooner, we will lower unemployment.

What about the Medicare trust fund? I will propose again my simple and foolproof solution. For those under age 65, provide a universally available Obamacare option of Medicare for all, but financed by premiums paid by employers and/or the newly covered citizens. Six percent of premiums would go into the Medicare Trust Fund. As conservative columnist Dr. Charles Krauthammer has said, sooner or later we will need to go to single payer to replace the overly complex Obamacare. This is the opening step.

Another right-wing Newspeak proclamation avers that our current president is a spendthrift and is placing burdens on future generations. In fact, the president can only spend what the Congress appropriates. The Republican right wing controls the House of Representatives, where, according to the Constitution, all spending bills must originate. It also controls the tax rates.

It alone is responsible for our deficits and resulting debt.

Yet another right wing manipulation of fact is the assertion that raising the minimum wage will cost many jobs. But according to most economists, the weight of evidence now shows that previous increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 16.5 million people would directly benefit from the president's proposal, and possibly 8 million workers already making above the new minimum wage would also benefit from a ripple effect. The resulting net increase in economic activity would benefit millions more already in the middle class. But it seems that our right-wing folks can't stand any positive impact on the economy. They think economic hard times will give them an election advantage.

Only 12 percent of our minimum-wage workers are teenagers, a fact that the right wing conveniently ignores. Would you, as an adult, want to feed your family on less than $16,000 a year? Or even twice that amount? I think not. We hold the keys to progress on all these issues. When candidates speak, listen for their positions on all these matters. Watch out for political Newspeak.

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