Columns » Hightower

Our clueless D.C. budget 'fixers'




In the present scramble to "fix" the federal deficit, one of Washington's worst ideas is widely considered by political elites — including some Democrats — to be a good idea, even a painless fix.

The idea is to raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare, shoving it from 65 to 67, or beyond.

After all, goes Washington's conventional wisdom, people live so much longer now, so it won't hurt to postpone eligibility and "save" a couple of years of taxpayer outlays to people.

But, as economist and columnist Paul Krugman has pointed out, this bit of conventional wisdom is merely conventional — in the sense of trite.

While life expectancy has gone up on average, it has not increased much for working stiffs — especially for tens of millions of lower-wage and poor workers.

Unlike being a member of Congress, the work that these people do tends to require heavy lifting, which can make you old fast.

Requiring them to do it even deeper into old age — and to wait longer for medical assistance — is, as Krugman bluntly calls it, cruel.

Bear in mind, too, that working-class families are precisely the people who count most on someday getting Social Security and Medicare.

They don't have the socialized medical benefits and golden pensions that those pampered conventional wisdom spouters in Congress get.

Oh, one more thing: The purported savings from this "fix" are so minimal as to be illusory. In fact, shoving ill or crippled elderly workers out of the cost-effective Medicare system actually will jack up America's health care costs.

Raising the retirement age is gratuitous as well as cruel — but mostly it's severely ignorant.

What's at work here is a policy-making elite that includes no working-class people, nor is it in touch with any.

So it can cluelessly believe that making the hard lives of these Americans worse is "painless."

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

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