Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What "Means Testing" Means for Average Americans

Usually, giving more to people who have less already is considered a progressive idea.  But according to today's Boston Globe:
  1. Romney wants to give fewer Social Security and Medicare dollars to higher-income people.
  2. Obama wants to keep  the benefits the same but make higher-income people pay more for them up front, in taxes.
  3. Many progressives don't want to see either!  How can this be?
 "Means testing"--basing our eligibility for benefits on our income or wealth--is a great idea in the abstract.  Why give either millionaire who's running for President any benefits that they don't really need, for instance?  We could certainly find other uses for the money.

Historically, though, Social Security and Medicare were popular precisely because everyone paid in and everyone took out.  These "social insurance" programs look more like cooperative saving for the future than like handouts, and that's made them politically strong.  When Tea Party types hold signs that say, "Keep your government hands off my Social Security," they are terribly confused (since Social Security IS a government program)--but at the same time, they are showing how powerful the appeal of universal programs can be.

Means testing Social Security and Medicare would make them look more like programs for the poor, including food stamps, Medicaid, and TANF.  Now, I am all in favor of these programs, but many Americans are not.  So, means testing the programs would deprive them of political support.  That's why many progressives will fight to keep them universal--even if that means an older Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be entitled to Medicare.

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