Someone Has to Tell David Brooks that Social Security and Medicare are Politically Popular

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Friday, 22 February 2013 05:48

David Brooks is unhappy that:

"Voters disdain the G.O.P. because they think Republicans are mindless antigovernment fanatics who can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones. Sequestration is a fanatically mindless piece of legislation that can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones. Sequestration carefully spares programs like Medicare and Social Security that actually contribute to the debt problem. Sequestration will cause maximum political disgust for a trivial amount of budget savings."

While voters may well end up being appalled by many of the Republicans' mean-spirited budget cuts on poor and helpless people, it is hard to believe that they would be happy if the Republicans tried to cut Social Security and Medicare. These are both programs that enjoy overwhelming support among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Brooks later gives his recommendation:

"In a normal country, the politicians would try some new moves. For example, if they agreed to further means test Medicare they could save a lot of money. Democrats would be hitting the rich."

Brooks' proposed solution also would produce a trivial amount of savings unless he manages to hugely redefine "rich." While rich people do makes lots of money, and therefore it is possible to get considerable amounts of revenue by taxing them, they don't get much more in Medicare and Social Security benefits than anyone else.

When it came to repealing tax cuts, the cutoff for those who would pay higher rates was set at $400,000. If this same cutoff for being "rich" was applied to seniors, it would include less than one-quarter of one percent of people receiving benefits under these programs. That means the most we could save by taking away their benefits altogether would be a quarter of one percent of the cost of these programs. Since high income seniors already pay for a substantial portion of their Medicare benefit, the savings would be even less. The savings would be somewhat higher than one quarter of one percent on the Social Security side since the benefits of high income earners tend to be higher than average.

The only way to achieve substantial savings in these programs through means-testing would be if we applied means testing to people with income around $50,000-$60,000 a year. This would be a major redefinition of "rich." (That's one way to make more rich people.)