Republicans: the party of small government, personal responsibility, and spending cuts. Or so they brand themselves.

The reality is much different on a number of key issues for which disagreements exist between different Republican leaders. One of those major issues is Social Security and Medicare. Many will remember the elderly Tea Party protester who brought a sign to a rally in 2010 that said, “Get you government hands off my Medicare.” With senior citizens making up a large and growing proportion of the population–especially in the off-year elections that Republicans have won of late–both partiers are scared of dealing with entitlements, even though those programs make up the vast majority of America’s federal government spending.

There have been some attempts to reform/cut entitlements. Incoming Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan introduced a budget that would have cut entitlements. Chris Christie proposed raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security at the Fox News presidential debate. That caused Mike Huckabee to get into an argument with him.

Mike Huckabee is another one of those small government conservatives who doesn’t want to cut the biggest cause of government spending. On October 20, he published an article on his website titled, “Dear Republicans, keep your hands off Social Security.” He could have added “government” in front of “hands” for added effect.

Members of Congress and federal employees receive automatic pay raises each year, yet 70 million Americans will NOT receive a Social Security cost of living increase next year.

From the start he engages in the duplicitous tactic of comparing a salary that people earn in exchange for their work with government spending, as if–it’s called an “entitlement,” after all–people are entitled to it. Say what you will about how much the government sucks, but government employees and Congressmen are doing a job, and people who do a job deserve a salary–however high it should be. (And one might say we even need it to be somewhat high if we want to have a competent government.)

The reason Social Security isn’t being increased for cost of living this year is because the cost of living didn’t increase this year!

Just read an the news (US News):

Social Security COLAs are tied to the Consumer Price Index, which dropped 0.2 percent in September.

In fact, since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s inflation calculator, inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index has only increase by a total of 10%.

Some conservatives have a stubborn tendency to deny reality towards inflation. Sarah Palin got into an argument with the Wall Street Journal about it in 2010, despite the fact that, as the Journal pointed out, inflation in food prices was at its lowest rate on record. Erick Erickson responded that he was talking about feelings when Paul Krugman hit him with a chart disproving his claim food prices were skyrocketing. “Paul uses a chart to try to disprove the reality that Americans with small kids actually experience at the grocery store,” he said.

That’s the gist of the problem: Some people will accept feelings over facts any day because it feels good. So it feels wrong in some people’s emotional minds that Social Security recipients aren’t getting an increase in payouts.

Now some have argued that the baseline inflation rate doesn’t reflect the spending habits of seniors, who have to spend more money on healthcare than the average person, and healthcare is continuing to increase in cost. That may be an argument to change the formula by which COLA is calculated but not an argument to not have Social Security tied to COLA. (However, the current formula does account partially for healthcare in that it restricts the cost of Medicare Part B to COLA.)

Mike Huckabee says that people getting paid by the government have “earned” it. He thinks such a government program isn’t a government program at all:

Sadly, the establishment elites treat Social Security and Medicare like WELFARE benefits. This is completely unacceptable, appalling, and flat-out wrong—these are EARNED benefits.

Is that true? Not necessarily. Benefits are paid out disproportionately, and many couples or individuals end up getting a lot more back than they paid in.

Politifact summarized a study by the Urban Institute:

According to the institute’s data, a two-earner couple receiving an average wage — $44,600 per spouse in 2012 dollars — and turning 65 in 2010 would have paid $722,000 into Social Security and Medicare and can be expected to take out $966,000 in benefits.

Facts, not emotions or appeals for votes. No Republican can seriously say they are going to make a dent in the budget without addressing its biggest areas of spending.


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