AFSCME president touts importance of Medicare and Social Security

Stephon Johnson | 6/14/2018, 4 p.m.

The first projections after President Donald Trump signed the GOP-sponsored $1.5 trillion tax cut spell doom for Social Security and Medicare, according to the Treasury Department.

Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin announced that the end of Social Security and Medicare may be closer than people think.

“The Social Security Disability Insurance program is projected to pay full scheduled benefits into 2032, and the Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance program into 2034,” said Mnuchin in a statement. “However, certain long-term issues persist. Lackluster economic growth in previous years, coupled with an aging population, has contributed to the projected shortages for both Social Security and Medicare.”

According to the annual report recently released by the Social Security Board of Trustees, the combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Fund are projected to become depleted in 2034, with 79 percent of benefits payable at the time.

Mnuchin suggested that “tax cuts, regulatory reform and improved trade agreements” would generate the long-term growth needed to secure Social Security and Medicare.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders suggested that the government itself invest more in Social Security and Medicare and not wait for “the market” to decide on its validity.

“At a time of instability, uncertainty and rising income inequality, vital programs like Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever,” said Saunders in a statement. “Today’s report shows that Social Security and Medicare continue to be strong and are working for our communities. America should double down and expand these programs. We need to continue our commitment to the fundamental promise that after decades of hard work Americans should be able to retire with dignity and see a doctor when they need to.”

According to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan think tank, Medicare’s finances improved under former president Barack Obama’s administration. The first trustees report of the Obama administration in 2009 projected a shortfall over the 75-year horizon equal to 3.88 percent of the projected payroll. At the time, it was almost twice as large as the projected shortfall in Social Security.

“The extent to which the policy changes of the Obama years slowed the course of spending can be debated, but it is indisputable that spending slowed sharply from its projected path,” read CEPR’s statement. “Unfortunately, it now appears to be accelerating again. The 2018 projections already imply a long-term shortfall that is almost 30 percent larger than the shortfall projected in 2017. This is a disturbing change that hopefully is not part of a trend towards higher projected and actual cost growth.”

Saunders said the attacks on the safety net would lead to the demise of many Americans and its protection should be of utmost importance to the government if legislators care about their constituents.

“Attacks on Social Security and Medicare represent a dangerous political choice to serve corporate interests and manipulate the rules of our economy against working people,” stated Saunders. “AFSCME members are on the front lines of our communities, working and fighting to keep them healthy and strong. We stand against the continued efforts by some members of Congress and the administration to hand out tax cuts to the wealthy and balloon the deficit to justify taking a sledgehammer to the retirement and health programs millions of Americans depend on every day.”