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Larson wouldn’t just save, but improve Social Security

Maybe nothing will come of it until the insanity in Washington dissipates, but Connecticut U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, is now in a position to do something important for the country and not just the military contractors back home.

With a new Democratic majority behind him as he enters his 21st year in the House, Larson has been appointed chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, giving him great influence over the social insurance system if the federal government ever returns to normal. The issue long has been close to Larson’s heart — not because, like some other Democrats, he would like to put everyone on patronage-based welfare but because he believes that earned benefits should maintain a stronger social safety net.

The legislation Larson advocates would increase Social Security benefits across the board and eliminate taxes on Social Security income for those with other annual income of as much as $50,000. The extra cost would be financed by removing the cap on Social Security taxes for high-income earners and by slowly increasing the Social Security tax on individuals and employers over two decades, gradually raising it from the current 6.2 percent to 7.4 percent.

Larson cites an analysis by the Social Security Administration concluding that his proposal would keep the system solvent for at least 73 years. That might end the divisive sneering that Social Security won’t be around for today’s younger workers.

Solvency is an argument that Larson apparently feels he must make for political reasons, but since the federal government can create money without taxes, the solvency of Social Security is actually of no more importance than the solvency of the rest of the government. Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, may be a giddy kook on most days but she has made the key observation here: Nobody ever asks where the money for another stupid imperial war will come from. That’s because the Treasury Department will issue the bonds for whatever the government wants to spend beyond tax revenue and foreign governments will buy them, at least for the time being, thereby turning them into money for the United States. If ever foreign governments don’t monetize them, the Federal Reserve will.

Apart from assuring that the elderly poor and the disabled don’t become destitute, Social Security is also a spectacularly efficient mechanism for putting money into the real economy of goods and services and sustaining the middle class in old age.

The system might be expanded and merged with Medicaid to cover long-term nursing home care for everyone, not just the indigent. After all, the estates of many patients are structured to make them indigent so their families are not wiped out by end-of-life care.

The system also might be expanded to repair the income gap between the sexes, which, contrary to politically correct hysteria, is not caused by sex discrimination but rather by women’s bearing most of the burden of raising children, preventing them from working for wages and earning Social Security credits as much as men.

Government programs for the poor, the old saying goes, are poor programs — underfinanced, inefficient, and ineffective. But Social Security can cover everybody as well as the poor and thus can command everybody’s support while doing more for the poor.

So improving Social Security invites bipartisanship, and Larson gladly works that way even in these bitter times. With this issue the right guy now may be in the right place.

 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.