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Social Security, Medicare don't contribute to debt

The News' April 19 editorial titled "The entitlement crisis" misses the mark by combining two distinctly separate issues into one. Whether or not recent health insurance reforms and Medicaid entitlement will add to the national debt is clearly debatable, but that argument cannot be made by conveniently, but incorrectly, including Social Security and Medicare.

While Social Security and Medicare are, factually, "entitlements," they are, for at least the next 25-30 years, fully paid for with real money already funded from workers and employer contributions. Over the years, nearly $3 trillion has accumulated and was given to the government to hold in "trust" until paid on account of a worker's retirement, disability or death. It's disingenuous, if not outright fabrication, to suggest that paying those entrusted funds adds to the national "debt." The so-called "crisis" is currently one of accounting for the funds and meeting the payback obligation.

Look at it this way -- a family puts money into a cookie jar to save for rainy days. A close uncle asks to borrow from the fund to pay for whatever, for which he did not save for nor ask anyone else to help pay. In exchange, he agreed to pay a little interest. Now, members of the family need to dip into the account because it's raining regularly and want their promised payback.

However, the uncle decides that he does not want to pay back his IOUs; he tells the family that asking him to repay what he owes will mean he has to borrow from someone else and that will add to his debt. He falsely accuses the members of the family of compromising his future by taking care of their own needs, and wants the family to take less in return, as if he was a victim.

But, the reality is the uncle has both a moral and legal obligation to pay back what he took from the cookie jar so that the family can take care of its needs. The same holds true for "Uncle Sam" to pay back the IOUs to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds so workers and their families can meet their income and medical needs. It is inconceivable that anyone should blame the program contributors and recipients for the misuse of their funds!

Finally, it is not the "government" that supports entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, it is a defined group of people who support them. Only after the government pays off what it owes, and if there is insufficient worker/employer contributions to meet payouts, should anyone legitimately argue whether the "government" can afford to maintain the programs. Until then, Social Security and Medicare are not culprits in causing, and should not be held hostage to, the real debt crisis.


Paul L. Demler is president of Local 3342 of the American Federation of Government Employees, Social Security Administration in Jamestown.

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