LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Medicare and Social Security are sustainable

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:12 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Columbia Missourian printed on the opinion page on Feb. 16 an article that said copyright The Kansas City Star. The third paragraph states: "But, once again, the president has failed the American people by refusing to tread into Social Security reform, and by offering only token reform in Medicare. They are the largest and fastest growing drivers of our national debt."

Social Security and Medicare are governed by a government committee overseen by Congress and the president. The committee makes recommendations and Congress chooses what it thinks is the best policy.

Both Medicare and Social Security are supported by premiums. Just as any other insurance, your Social Security card at the very top says "health insurance." Congress adjusts both premiums annually. It cannot and will not go broke. Services are increased and premiums are adjusted. Thirty percent of Social Security money is sent to people who are not retired.

In 1982, a meeting was held at the University of Missouri. I told them we had a cost-of-living adjustment — people are living longer (I'm 91). We needed a length-of-living adjustment; I was quoted in the Farmington newspaper with my name (my cousin called me). An adjustment for age has been adopted. Other adjustments can be added. Let higher earners pay the same rate but be charged to a higher limit.

Social Security and Medicare programs have lots of money loaned to the Treasury. Without changes we must ask the Treasury to give it back.

Treasury notes and Social Security money must be honored.

To get the facts call the local Social Security office.

Harry R. Weitkemper is a Columbia resident.

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Michael Williams February 23, 2012 | 10:11 a.m.

Was this the actual letter or did the newspaper mess up the English during the printing process?

The letter started out ok but rapidly degraded as if fortified by the fastest-acting bourbon ever.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield February 23, 2012 | 11:20 a.m.

Doesn't the Missourian copy edit letters to the editor?

(Report Comment)
Elizabeth Conner Stephens February 23, 2012 | 11:50 a.m.

Letters to the editor do go through the copy editing process. We try to keep it as a light edit, so we don't take away the writer's voice and intention. But you are right that there was some unclear wording and mistakes in this letter. I've corrected what I've found, but if you have other corrections please submit them through the Show Me the Errors form.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth Conner
Opinion editor, Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 23, 2012 | 2:34 p.m.

The United States Supreme Court ruled ages ago that Social Security is NOT "insurance."

Insurance is a CONTRACT between an insurer and an insured. In return for receiving a lump sum payment or series of payments, the insurer pledges to provide the insured with specific monies under specific conditions (for example upon the death of the insured). The terms of the contract are specific, and can only be changed by written agreement of the two parties (for example,as a policy "rider").

The Court has ruled that Social Security is a form of WELFARE. It is not a contract between the government and its individual citizens, and what it is worth at any given time in terms of payments to citizens is whatever Congress says it's worth (the Court's decision specifically mentioned Congress).

The Court's decision was made in a case involving a man who came to the United States from Italy. He never became a United States citizen, and he engaged in some illegal activities, was sent to prison, and then was slated for deportation as an undesirable alien. He and his attorney sued in an attempt to collect only those payments he'd made to Social Security (he'd had some legal employment) on the grounds that Social Security was touted as being "insurance".

When are we going to stop using "insurance" to describe Social Security? (I have no comments regarding Medicare.)

(Report Comment)
James Krewson February 23, 2012 | 2:46 p.m.

Why are we being forced to pay into a system that is going insolvent. Obama has said in the past that Social Security checks may not be going out if his tax plans aren't passed in Congress. What are we to believe anymore? I think we are being lied to by our leaders, and eventually we will have to face the reality that we are bankrupt.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 23, 2012 | 3:35 p.m.

Social Security is a poster child for what's wrong with government programs.

When it was begun in 1935 it was actuarially sound. There were something like 16 contributing workers for each retired person who was eligible. Eligibility (who could receive benefits) was "tight," and the average life span of American males wasn't then a whole lot past 65.

Conditions have changed in several respects since 1935, but the system has lagged in accounting for those changes. (Isn't delayed oversight also partly responsible for what we are seeing in the present EU crisis?) Also, eligibility has been broadened. As I've said in my above post, Congress has the final say in what should be done, and the system has become a political football. It's difficult not to notice that it's a "football" that can be used to manipulate the votes of Americans now collecting Social Security payments.

Care to try an experiment? Walk into a senior center, here in Columbia or anywhere else in the United States. Tell the nice folks you meet there that if they are receiving Social Security payments they are on WELFARE! They won't like it, but that's what the United States Supreme Court says it is.

I get Social Security payments (I'll be 79 next month); therefore, I too am on welfare. But I took someone's advice back in the 1950s. They advised me to plan for my retirement as if there would be NO Social Security payments. So I did, and I think it was some of the best advice I ever received. (Of course I had to forgo the Maserati...)

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders February 23, 2012 | 3:43 p.m.

Sure they're sustainable. It's only a question of how many people are impoverished in order achieve this sustainability.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance February 24, 2012 | 11:51 p.m.

It saddens me that people with modest means keep talking the "liberty" line and advocate the destruction of social security. Acting and talking like a rich conservative will not make you rich. You are not part of the "soon to haves" so it makes no sense to destroy a program that helps seniors stay out of utter poverty.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 25, 2012 | 7:24 a.m.

T. Dance - "You are not part of the "soon to haves" so it makes no sense to destroy a program that helps seniors stay out of utter poverty."

So then, you will want to be first in line to vote Obummer out of office. The extra $40 he so proudly claims he is providing for "Latinos", "to help the economy, is coming directly out of their SS Fund, the payroll tax. Not his borrowed, income, etc. tax revenue.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 25, 2012 | 9:35 a.m.

Tim says, " a rich conservative will not make you rich."

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But acting like a rich conservative WILL make you richer.

Of course, in my context, the term "acting" means using the same strategies the rich use to get that that way.

I note you left out all rich liberals. Is there a good rich and a bad rich?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 25, 2012 | 10:34 a.m.

Tim Dance:

Let's start with your putting a number on "rich," which we can agree is a relative term - unless further defined. To assist you, here are some questions:

Is a person whose net worth is =/> $1 million rich? Gotta tell you, Tim, $1 million ain't what it was in 1930, 1950 or 1970.

Or does your net worth need to be in the range it is for two women living here in Columbia, that is, in the low billions? Maybe we could all agree they're rich. :)

Or would you prefer some point between those two?

Old Engineering proverb: it ain't anything until you put a number on it. [Amen!]

As for this attitude you complain of, maybe it's due to some of us being fed up with a federal government that takes from the provident to give to the improvident (includes both individuals and organizations) and which consistently can't balance a budget.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz February 25, 2012 | 12:57 p.m.

Tim, maybe if the government hadn't taken money from those seniors' paychecks and "invested" it in a program with a near-zero return, those seniors wouldn't be reliant on the government for their retirement?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 26, 2012 | 7:04 a.m.

@ John Schultz:

I agree, but there's another aspect to that. Having BIG BROTHER around to tell people, "don't worry about your retirement, we'll take care of that for you" simply encourages the foolish and/or improvident to avoid taking financial responsibility for their later years.

If you treat all adults as if they are children, sooner or later a number of them will BECOME children.

(Report Comment)

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