The Debt Ceiling, Social Security Benefits and the Danger of political games

Written by Anthony Reeves

Jul 26, 2011 Today, I received a phone call from one of my clients who was asking how long her case would take to go to a hearing. I get these calls all the time so this call wasn’t anything out of the norm. However, on this day, her concern wasn’t over getting thrown out of her home, frustration with excessive delays, or the need for money. In her words, she was “concerned that the government may stop spending money on August 3 for Social Security benefits.” Her words really caught me off guard. I’ve always believed that Social Security is such an integral part of the fabric and landscape of the American socioeconomic fabric that few politicians would dare take any steps toward jeopardizing it. However, after thinking for a second, I started to look at this situation differently. A lot of things are occurring now that I would not have anticipated. I would never have anticipated the emergence of the Tea Party movement. I would never have anticipated seeing an African-American President in my lifetime (even though, I’m glad I did). I would never have anticipated seeing politicians with no political experience and known questionable backgrounds voted into office. So with that backdrop, I came to my question: “Is the Debt Ceiling issue real or are politicians playing politics with Social Security Disability benefits?” As the August 2, 2011 Debt Ceiling deadline looms, the President said these words that many Americans who are receiving Social Security Disability benefits are terrified to hear: “I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue…….this is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans’ checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out.” -Obama on CBS Evening News. For the 6.4 million survivors, 8 million disabled workers, and 35 million retired workers who receive the billions of dollars in Social Security benefits, this statement from the President is not only shocking but also horrifying. The fears are real but facts are an acceptable source to combat any misunderstandings or misgivings. In April 2008, the Congressional Research Service prepared a Report for Congress on the debt limit. In this report, a few things truly stand out: 1.While the debt limit has never caused the federal government to default on its obligations, it has at times caused great inconvenience and has added uncertainty to Treasury operations. 2.The debt limit has been raised in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. 3.Unless federal policies change, Congress would repeatedly face demands to raise the debt limit to accommodate the growing federal debt in order to provide the government with the means to meet its financial obligations. So, in the grander scheme of things, the debt limit has been increased regularly with little incident or fanfare. In other words, if Congress and the White House follow historical trends, an agreement will be reached, the debt limit will be raised, and benefits will be distributed uninterrupted. So what makes this debt limit so special?? Why are political blows being thrown like a Mixed Martial Arts fight in the Octagon?? The simple fact is nothing. There is absolutely nothing special about this debt ceiling limit. Even more so, the discussions are focused on the same age-oldcomplaints: spending cuts and taxes. The President wants spending cuts and tax increases. The Republicans don’t want any new revenue (i.e. no new taxes). The Democrats don’t want any proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. So, in the end, the truth is the debt ceiling has everything to do with your benefits and nothing to do with your benefits. Unfortunately, the reality is, the truth depends upon who you talk to. More importantly, the truth, also, falls on who you believe. Will your benefits continue? I am fairly confident that they will. Don’t freak out over the political grandstanding. In the end, the machine will keep rolling but any time you know the political pundits have to take a few jabs along the way.

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