Cutting Social Security benefits is as bad as raising taxes

November 11, 2010

President Obama's bipartisan deficit reduction commission is calling for cuts in Social Security benefits. ("Deficit plan spreads the pain,", Nov 11). This recommendation will appeal to many conservatives. Why is it that conservatives who cry bloody murder at any mention of increased taxes are happy about reduced Social Security benefits? Reducing benefits takes money out of people's pockets just like raising taxes. The effect of reduced benefits is exactly like a new income tax, except that it only applies to retired people. And increasing the retirement age is just as bad, or worse. Increasing a person's retirement age by a year is the same as taking away a whole year's worth of payments.

Imagine that when you were young, you had the foresight to buy an annuity from an insurance company to give you monthly income after you retired. You bought this annuity right after high school or college, as soon as you began your working life. You set aside money from every paycheck and paid the premiums faithfully for 40 years or so. Now you are ready to retire, and the insurance company tells you: "Oops. We didn't invest your premium payments wisely, and now we can't afford to give you the monthly income we promised. We could pay you a bit less every month. Would that be OK? Or how about if we pay you nothing at all for the first year?"

I don't think you would accept that willingly. I think you would tell the insurance company: "I don't care if you threw away all of my premium checks. You are still obligated to pay what it says in the policy." The key word is "obligated." Social Security is said to be an "entitlement," but the difference between an "obligation" and an "entitlement" is just a matter of point of view. Those of us who have been paying into the Social Security system for years are entitled to our promised benefits. The U.S. government is obligated to keep its promises.

Harry Woelfer, Ellicott City

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