Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: The Republican plan to end Social Security? 23 August '11

Republicans are very crafty in the ways they want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare.

While some - like Congressman Paul Ryan - are overt in their plans to privatize entitlements - and end Social Security and Medicare, as we know it - others are a bit sneakier.

Their sneaky strategy - and, really, it is incredibly sneaky because it sounds SO reasonable - is something called “means-testing.”

As in - only paying out benefits to people who need them - and withholding Social Security checks from millionaires.

Mitch Daniels: The way I think that the more fortunate in our society need to participate is by taking away some of the benefits they don't need and I would include in that not only benefits of social security, and medicare, which both should be means tested.

Rand Paul: we let the age of social security gradually rise to age 70 by the year 2032 and we means test the benefits.

Mike Lee: people who are at the top end of the socioeconomic spectrum can stand to sacrifice a little bit in terms of the benefits they receive at the back end.

Lindsey Graham: starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means-tests for benefits.

Sure - this SEEMS reasonable - I mean, why should billionaire Warren Buffet collect an $1,100 a month Social Security check? Why should billionaire Charles Koch get Medicare?

Thus the "means" in means-testing.

If somebody has the means to pay for their own retirement or health care, then they aren't eligible to get a social security or medicare system.

It sounds - as I said - so very reasonable.

Especially with so much stress already on the system because when Bush added Medicare Part D he forbid the government from negotiating drug prices, so Medicare is paying full retail for millions of pills that the Veterans Administration, for example, can buy at wholesale, for pennies on the dollar.

So the the average person, looks at this and says, you know, means testing seems to make sense.

But in reality - “means testing” is the poison pill that will kill off Social Security and Medicare as we know it and that's why these guys are pushing it so hard.

Why will they kill it off? Because once you “means test” these critical programs - as in - only give benefits to people who actually need them - they'll have the means - then you’ve just turned Social Security and Medicare into WELFARE programs - and they're no longer the cover-every-person-in-America INSURANCE programs they were set up as.

And we all know what happens to welfare programs eventually - THEY GET CUT.

Take for example what happened to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society welfare programs that cut poverty in half in the 1960s.

By the bubble-driven go-go 1990’s very few people were thinking that maybe one day they would need welfare, that maybe one day they would need long-term help because the country may hit a severe recession or even another great depression.

So, predictably, 15 years ago - President Bill Clinton drank the Republican Kool-aid and pledged to, “end welfare as we know it”:

He fundamentally changed the way welfare was administered in the United States - by placing strict new requirements on impoverished families to collect benefits.

As a result - he DID end welfare as we know it - and he didn’t end poverty - and his welfare reform ripped huge chunks of the social safety net away - and that social safety net is now, it wasn't so badly needed back then, but now pretty badly needed, but no longer exists.

As this chart shows - in the roaring year of 1996 - when Clinton signed welfare reform into law - 68% of families living in poverty received some sort of federal assistance to get by - to pay their bills - to put gas in the car - to put food on the table.

But today - in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression - and persistent joblessness - while we have millions more people facing economic disasters, only 27% of families living in poverty can qualify to receive the assistance that they need - and the rest now have to max out credit card after credit card just to hold on to their homes, cars, and desperate livelihoods.

There are no special interest groups - no high-priced lobbyists - no deep-pocketed banksters - who care about welfare programs - in fact all these guys are trying to hand public assistance programs over to Wall Street so billionaire campaign donors can skim a little bit more off the top.

If you watch Fox so-called News - they devote huge chunks of programming to railing against the "nanny state" - and government handouts - and "welfare queens".

And because poor people can't afford to hire lobbyists or make campaign contributions - or even buy the things advertised on Fox-so-called-News - frankly, nobody gives a rat's ass about them.

Welfare is demonized in America, right along with poor people.

Thus - when it comes time to cut - welfare is always the first thing to be put on the chopping block.

Just look at what's happened so far this year - what's at the top of the list of the things that Republicans want to cut? Welfare programs!

Food stamps - child healthcare - energy assistance to low-income families - help for single mothers - you name it - if it helps poor people - Republicans want to cut it.

And they're not even shy about it - many of them brag about it!

So the moment Medicare and Social Security are "means tested" - and thus become welfare programs - then one day a year or two or three or four afterwards, they will go on the chopping block too.

Instead of 100% of seniors getting Social Security checks - it'll drop to 90% - then 75% - then 50% - then 20% just like Clinton's welfare reforms.

And soon - no one will get them.

After all - we need to end welfare as we know it, right?

So the point - very straightforward here - is - don't buy into this means-testing gimmick - because it will be the beginning of the end of Medicare and Social Security.

These are INSURANCE programs - always have been - everyone pays in - everyone gets something out - and we need to keep them that way.

That's The Big Picture.

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And for good reason, too.

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