Categorized | Pushback

Medicare, Social Security: We Need Our Own ‘Operation Coffee Cup‘

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Doctors’ wives would organize coffee klatches to promote letter-writing against what would a few years later become the Medicare program.

By Al Norman

Sixty-one years ago, Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan recorded a 10- minute long recording entitled Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine part of a clandestine “Operation Coffee Cup” campaign funded by the American Medical Association, warning citizens about the dangers of Social Security and a government-sponsored health insurance plan for the elderly.

Doctors’ wives would organize coffee klatches to promote letter-writing against what would a few years later become the Medicare program.

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Pitchman Regan “criticized Social Security for supplanting private savings” and said subsidized medicine would threaten American freedom. “Just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day…we will wake to find that we have socialism, and…one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

For my entire life, Republicans have been throwing hot coffee on Social Security and Medicare. In 2000, Pres. George W. Bush, proposed “carving out” Social Security into private accounts, allowing workers to divert part of their Social Security payroll tax, into personal savings accounts, and funding this privatization by raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for younger workers.

Most recently, as part of the federal Debt Ceiling crisis, which we have to solve by early June, lawmakers are using Social Security and Medicare in a game of political brinksmanship. “They [Republicans] are going to try to cut Social Security and Medicare. It could not be clearer,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted recently, attaching a video clip of Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla.,  telling Fox News that major spending cuts would likely require changes to entitlement programs.

The White House has repeatedly said that Pres. Biden will not negotiate or compromise on the debt limit by making major spending cuts. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier this month. “There will be no hostage taking.” In a podcast interview with Donald Trump, Jr., new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. promised the GOP “won’t touch Medicare or Social Security” in negotiations over the debt ceiling. The Republican Speaker said cuts to Social Security and Medicare were “off the table.

When pursued by reporters asking if he wanted to raise the retirement age for Social Security, McCarthy replied: “No, no, no. What I’m talking about Social Security, Medicare, you keep that to the side…If you read our ‘Commitment to America’  all we talk about is strengthening Medicare and Social Security,”

McCarthy unveiled his Newt Gingrich-style “contract” in September of 2022. A few months earlier, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released its Fiscal Year  2022  budget plan which included a plan to “Make Medicare more market-oriented and efficient by combining traditional Medicare parts into a single federal option that would allow private plans to compete on an even playing field. And on Social

Security, the RSC proposed to “increase the minimum benefit up to 40 percent of average wages for those that worked 40 years or more,” and pay for it by delaying “the full retirement age to track life expectancy.” Under this plan, the full retirement age for Social Security would increase from the current 66 or 67 depending on your birth year, to age 70.

 “America’s seniors cannot afford benefit cuts, including raising the eligibility age for future Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries,” said Max Richtman president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Many older Americans are still struggling in the post-pandemic economy. Some retirees have had to return to work to make ends meet. They need every penny of their earned benefits.”

The Debt Ceiling wrangling has nothing to do with the cost of Social Security, or Medicare. The Debt Ceiling is about paying for past bills. The ceiling is a legislative limit on the amount of national debt that can be incurred by the U.S. Treasury, limiting how much money the federal government may pay on the debt they already borrowed.

 It’s time for a 21st century “Operation Coffee Cup,” this one aimed at protecting the programs that have strengthened our older population and people with disabilities. Seniors should put down their cup of coffee, and call their U.S. Senators or Representatives at 202-225-3121.Tell them: “Get the Debt Ceiling vote done asap — and get it done without cutting Social Security and Medicare.”

Al Norman worked in the eldercare field in Massachusetts for three decades, and has been writing opinion columns for the 50+Life for almost as long.

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