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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'We the People' Demand Change

I am a senior citizen, and frankly, I am tired of members of Congress targeting Social Security and Medicare as easy ways to cut the massive budget deficit.

I was forced to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes throughout my nearly 40-year career. It is with great dismay that I have watched members of Congress, and others, blame seniors for the enormous national debt this country faces. We are accused of being greedy and selfish for wanting the benefits we were promised from Social Security and Medicare. These people use the word entitlement to describe the benefits we were promised, and they have made this into a derogatory word. 

Well guess what? Social Security and Medicare are entitlements. I was forced to pay into these funds, with the promise of future benefits, and I expect to receive what I was promised. That doesn't make me greedy. I will forgo my monthly Social Security payments, and my future Medicare benefits, if Congress will return to me, with interest, every dime I was forced to pay into these programs. I suspect there are many others who would do the same. I will be responsible for investing my money and deciding how much to withdraw, and how often. 

I paid cash for my Social Security benefits. This money was taken from my pay checks without my permission. Just because the government borrowed the money and now doesn't want to pay it back doesn't make my benefits some kind of money-grab by me or other senior citizens. Expecting to receive what we were promised does not make us greedy. I should not have to be subjected to a 'means test' before I can receive the benefits I was promised and for which I have already paid. It's my money, and I am entitled to it.

Federal employees and retirees, and Social Security recipients, get whatever cost-of-living adjustment the president and Congress decide to give them -- if they get one at all. Many private sector employees are in the same situation. Members of Congress get an automatic, annual pay increase unless they vote not to accept it. (How many do you think actually do that?) 

All Congress can think of to cut spending is to take from the people who need help the most, while at the same time continuing to pad their own bank accounts and those of their corporate handlers. And they want to eliminate the income tax deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations, things that benefit middle-income taxpayers? 

Here's a suggestion: Why not collect Social Security tax on all income, rather than just the first $106,800 of earned annual income, as is done for Medicare? That would put a lot of money into the fund. Of course, putting more money into Social Security is but one step. Another needed reform is to stop stealing money from Social Security. So far, the federal government has taken $2.5 trillion from Social Security, which is supposed to be repaid. Given the current budget deficit, how likely is it that this money will actually be returned to Social Security? Stealing from this fund needs to stop NOW, and it should be illegal. Don't blame senior citizens for government's greed and ineptness.

Rather than eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, how about limiting it to a single home, the primary residence. Deductions for interest on vacation homes, second and third homes, rental properties, etc., should not be allowed. And limit the deduction to homes of less than $1 million value. How much would that add to the government's coffers?

We have spent trillions of dollars on two unwinnable wars trying to help people who in large part don't want our help. More than 6,000 American men and women have been killed in those wars; countless others will live the rest of their lives with horrendous physical or psychological injuries. We have spent millions to set up a postal system in Iraq, while our post office is facing massive cuts, layoffs and closures. America is usually the first to send food, water, shelter and medicine to other countries after a natural disaster, while millions of our own citizens struggle to provide these basic necessities. 

I see the long line of people outside the food pantry where I volunteer every week. I see the people 'shopping' for free, donated clothing, toys and household goods for themselves and their families. I see how happy people are to get a pair of shoes, a pillow or a box of Q-Tips. We send billions of dollars to other countries while our own citizens struggle to get by. Whatever happened to "Charity begins at home"?

It's no wonder Americans are fed up with their government. It no longer serves 'we the people.' It appears to be serving only those individuals (lobbyists) and corporations that deliver the most money and other perks to their campaign coffers. The voices of the 'little people,' those who elected their so-called representatives, go unheard.

I cite two examples from New Mexico, where I live. More than 72 percent of New Mexicans want the 2003 law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain a NM driver's license to be overturned. The governor, with whom I agree on little else, wants the law overturned. But our legislators refuse to consider legislation to end this ridiculous practice. A judge has halted the governor's plan to verify the residence of a sample of 10,000 of those non-citizens who have received a NM driver's license. This despite well-publicized cases of unscrupulous people from China, Poland and other countries bringing (at considerable profit) to New Mexico illegals who don't even live in the state, for the sole purpose of obtaining a NM drivers license.

Likewise, 69 percent of New Mexicans support efforts to reintroduce the highly endangered Mexican gray wolf into a small  portion of its former territory in southwestern New Mexico. Despite overwhelming public support of this plan, the governor stacked the Game and Fish Commission with ranchers and others who believe the only good wolf is a dead wolf. As a result, trapping is once again allowed in the wolves' habitat in the Gila National Forest. These are public lands; they are not there for the economic benefit of a small subset of the general population. As public lands, they should be there for the enjoyment -- not profit -- of anyone who chooses to visit there. Instead, a small, wolf-hating group is allowed to threaten the very existence of a native mammal. Individuals and their family pets have been caught in these barbaric traps. Despite trappers' claims to the contrary, there is no way to make this torture device more humane. But does the state government listen to the wishes of a large majority of its citizens? No, it listens to organized and well-funded donors who apparently feel extremely threatened by the 50 remaining Mexican gray wolves that have managed to escape being shot, trapped or poisoned.

Our country is facing some tough choices, and all the politicians do is attack the other party and pontificate. There will be no easy solutions. As a start, our elected officials need to listen to the voice of the people -- not the lobbyists, not the special interests, not those seeking to profit at the expense of others. Of course, there will continue to be a variety of opinions about what is best for the country. But taking from senior citizens isn't the answer. Cutting benefits to the poor, to veterans and to those most vulnerable in our society, is not the answer. 

There is incredible waste and fraud in government. I worked for the federal government for nearly 25 years. I have seen the ineptness, the cumbersome regulations, the red tape that can make even the most simple purchase take forever. 

We need to take care of our people, of our country, before trying to save the world. The American people want action. They want solutions. They want government funds to be spent on taking care of our problems, rather than on propping up corrupt dictators in foreign countries. It is past time for 'we the people' to take our government back and make it work for us.