Obama’s ‘bad Samaritan’ budget

President Obama is including cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his new budget , due to be sent to … Continued

President Obama is including cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his new budget , due to be sent to Congress this week. These cuts, argues Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor under President Clinton, will hurt seniors already burdened by our tough economic times.

What President Obama is proposing is a “bad Samaritan” budget; instead of helping those seniors who have been beaten up by our tough economic times and left by the side of the fiscal road, this budget, should it be adopted, would kick them when they’re down.

“Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asked Jesus of Nazareth. As he frequently did, Jesus replied, ‘let me tell you this parable,’ and Jesus told the lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten by robbers and left suffering on the side of the road. High officials walk by on the other side, and ignore this beaten down man. What makes the Samaritan “good” is that he stops and helps the man out of his own pocket. (Luke 10:25-37)

Since the adoption of Social Security and then Medicare, we have all contributed out of our own pockets to help seniors and, in a particularly American twist on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to ultimately help ourselves when we become seniors. These are the most successful programs ever adopted in this country to keep the elderly from being kicked to the side of the road and left to suffer in poverty.

In fact, these days, instead of the administration and Congress obsessing about cutting Social Security and Medicare, they should be looking for ways to increase these programs. We need more Social Security and Medicare, not less, given the realities of seniors’ individual pensions (declining or non-existent) and individual savings (not possible with flat salaries), as Ezra Klein shows. What used to be a three-legged stool of individual retirement programs, savings and Social Security is now, for many retirees, a one-legged stool, and this comes at a time when health care costs are rising and seniors are paying more out of pocket for their health care. Yet, this Obama budget proposal would start sawing inches off that remaining leg.

This budget proposal is unconscionable, kicking seniors when they are already struggling because of three decades of conservative “trickle down” economics. “Trickle down” economics is really “flow upward” economics; it has been a massive income re-distribution in our economy from the poor and middle class to the most wealthy as this viral video “Wealth Inequality in America shows. And it is continuing, perhaps even accelerating.

Even worse, Social Security and Medicare have nothing to do with the budget, and our long-term debt problems. Two unfunded wars and tax cuts for the rich caused our current debt problems. Many people know that, and I am sure those in the Obama administration who crafted this budget proposal know that.

I, along with many people of faith and political progressives, are calling on the president to drop this “bad Samaritan” budget proposal of cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Instead, I call on the president to invest in the long-term health of whole American society. The president should submit a budget proposal that includes reforming tax loopholes the rich currently use to get out of paying their fair share of taxes, and the budget should apply that revenue to increased payments from Social Security and Medicare to those seniors, and future seniors, who are being left on the side of the road, beaten up by the decades of “flow upward” economics.

That would be a “good Samaritan” budget.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

  • persiflage

    While Obama is throwing a bone to the GOP (based on their own idea of chained social security increases), he is rapidly losing his liberal base and a significant number of democrats in congress, along with the support of millions of non-affluent elderly that count on social security as their primary source of income. As an early fan of HIlliary Clinton, I’m not alone in wondering what might have been.

    This is just very bad politics for a democratic president – and a fundamentally unproductive response to recalcitrant, uncooperative republicans in congress that defy reason with their drumbeat of ‘no new revenues’. In fact, tightfisted GOP ideology at exactly the wrong time is probably driving the economy toward another deep recession hour by hour.

    As recently as 1983, nearly 90% of America’s working population could count on some kind of pension in retirement – in addition to social security. At present, that figure has dwindled to about 30% of the working population. Many with pensions today are in fact government workers, and the GOP won’t rest until they do significant damage to government pension plans. The claim that the GOP is assaulting the middle class is not unfounded by any means.

    I continue to be amazed at middle Americans that support their proudly unabashed nemesis – the republicans in both houses of congress.

  • cautious

    Close the “Carried Interest” loophole that benefits hedge fund managers before asking seniors to take a cut in benefits.

  • mjb

    I think the question should be answered , not in the context of paying into the system…medicare or social security, rather in the context of the king of society we seek. the winner take all [Bill Gates was one time worth more than the bottom half of the nation] must be adjudicated by the notion of decency and, perhaps more important the notion one receives special talents in order to be shared. In this way ownership becomes a central theme from which we make evaluations.

    Success should be rewarded but not in isolation. The ownership of private property is not absolute [as in John Locke] but as caretaker. Einstein discovered some foundations of physics, but through the Ideas of Planck. Given the wealth of this country, does not mean a winner has a thousand times the wealth of others, it means he was able to accomplish a valuable task with a special acuity .

    As to what we will ‘allow’ as far as the lowest standard of living, that is a judgement outside the role of task and in to the role of value. A society that values stable, equitable living will encourage future generations to take chances knowing that neither will their success be a source of estrangement from others, nor their failure be a devastating loss.