Tag Archives: Social Security

Promise made … promise broken

Donald Trump made a solemn vow while campaigning for the presidency of the United States of America.

He said he wouldn’t be a typical Republican. He said he would leave Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending alone. He wouldn’t touch them. He would solve the nation’s budgetary woes — as he defined them — without laying a hand on those valuable social programs.

So, what does the president do when he presents his fiscal year 2020 federal budget? He proposes cuts to Medicare by $845 billion, cuts for Medicaid by $1.5 trillion and reduces Social Security spending by $25 billion.

His record-setting budget of $4.75 trillion does add money for the Department of Defense.

Broken promises

My point here is that Donald Trump persuaded many American voters that he would leave these coveted programs alone.

OK, he has officially stuck it in our household’s eye. My wife and I are retired Americans. We draw from our Social Security accounts and we also depend on Medicare to help with our health care needs; I also have Veterans Administration benefits to assist with my health care issues.

Is this the bargain the nation got when it elected this promise-breaker president of the United States?

Socialism is a serious straw man

Donald J. Trump stood before a joint congressional session and received his share of cheers — mostly from Republicans sitting in front of him — during his State of the Union speech.

One applause line deserves a brief comment here. He declared, without an ounce of equivocation, that the United States is never going to become a “socialist nation.”

GOP lawmakers stood and cheered. So did a handful of Democrats.

Why mention this here? Because the president of the United States only revealed his acute command of the obvious.

He was taking a direct shot at one member of the Senate, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders. He also was targeting a handful of House Democrats, too, namely the rookie lawmaker, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a media superstar while serving for an entire month in the House of Representatives.

Is the president’s declaration actually intended to stave off some hidden stampede toward socialism? He clearly intends with that statement to stoke some kind of made-up fear that there is enough support in Congress to allow for a government takeover of heavy industry. He is breeding panic among those who believe that the United States of America is going to forgo capitalism in favor of socialism.

Let’s catch our breath. There is no way in the world that the United States of America is going to adopt a socialistic economy.

The issues that some congressional progressives can be resolved without converting our economy from one that produces individual wealth to something that distributes wealth evenly among all 300 million-plus Americans.

“Medicare For All” is no more of a socialistic solution than, say, the original Medicare was when it was enacted in 1965. Or when Social Security became law in 1935. Yet lawmakers and, yes, the president insist that the Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative — marches the nation down the road toward socialism.

There remains a tremendous amount of individual wealth in this country. I happen to believe firmly that individual wealth will continue to flourish likely until the end of time — whenever that occurs! Socialism, as I understand the meaning of the concept, seeks to redistribute wealth through some nefarious government grab of individual assets.

Does anyone seriously believe that is going to happen? Ever?

If you believe it, then you likely have swilled the Kool-Aid dispensed by demagogues who flourish in a climate of fear.

Why not repair ACA instead of repealing it?

Barack H. Obama used to say it all the time: If Republicans have any improvements they want to make to the Affordable Care Act, I am willing to work it with them.

The Democratic president was open to tinkering with the ACA. He said he was keeping an open mind on ways to improve his signature piece of domestic legislation.

Then his time as president expired. His successor, Donald J. Trump, had vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA starting with Day One of his presidency. He has labeled the ACA a “disaster.”

But the president can’t seem to bring himself to persuade his fellow Republicans in Congress to do as his predecessor has suggested regarding improving the ACA. They have dug in hard in their effort to repeal and replace the ACA. Trump has joined them. They now are left to fighting among themselves over the best way to replace the ACA.

The ACA is not the “disaster” that Trump has asserted about it. The law has provided health insurance for more than 20 million Americans who couldn’t afford it.

I am willing to concede that the ACA isn’t perfect. However, it is the law of the land. Why in the world can’t the GOP pick the law apart, huddle with Democrats, agree on what’s working and then seek to reform the elements of the ACA that aren’t working?

Oh, no. They cannot go there. The intention among the GOP leadership is to throw out every vestige of the ACA because, I’m going to presume, it has President Obama’s imprimatur. The Republican congressional caucus had declared its intention to make Obama “a one-term president,” and the ACA — approved in 2010 — simply had to go.

Tinkering and mending this law doesn’t constitute an unprecedented solution. Congress did as much with Medicare in the 1960s and with Social Security in the 1930s.

They managed — somehow — to improve those other two pieces of landmark legislation.

What about the here and now?

Now, those are ‘town hall meetings’

Town hall meetings usually are love fests, at least that’s what transpires when state legislators convene them in the Texas Panhandle.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, quite often stages these sessions in communities throughout his sprawling West Texas district. As near as I can tell, they are civil, usually friendly and constituents spend a good bit of energy telling Seliger how much they appreciate his service.

Well, town hall meetings in many congressional districts have turned into something quite different in recent days. They have produced shouting matches between members of Congress and their constituents.

At issue? The Affordable Care Act.

Constituents are showing up in droves to tell their congresspeople to leave the ACA alone. Or, if they’re going to repeal it, they’d damn well better have something to replace it … as in immediately, if not sooner!

U.S. Rep. Gus Billirakis, R-Fla., got a snootful from his constituents, who told him they’d better not mess with “Obamacare.” He’s not alone. Someone uttered the term “death panel” during a town hall event and promptly got booed and shouted down.

I haven’t heard about any such encounters in my congressional district, which would be the 13th, covering the Texas Panhandle. Our member of Congress is a fellow named Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a rancher and a self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer.” He has served in the House for 22 years, making him one of the big dogs of Capitol Hill.

Thornberry hasn’t said much in public — above a whisper — about how he would replace the ACA.

Town hall meetings, as I have long understood them, were meant for constituents to speak their minds freely, telling their elected representatives what they think about issues of the day and how their representatives are handling them. The bad comes with the good. Town hall meetings aren’t usually intended to be amen choruses.

Thus, the real deal has broken out in congressional districts across the land.

It’s beginning to sound as though Congress has just discovered a so-called new “third rail.” It used to be that you didn’t mess with Social Security. These days, with 20 million Americans insured through a new government-sponsored insurance program, the third rail might have switched.

Now it’s the Affordable Care Act … maybe.

Why not just repair Obamacare?

All this talk about repealing the Affordable Care Act seems to ignore a possible alternative that’s been done already with other landmark legislation.

Congressional Republicans have been adamant about getting rid of the ACA. They’ve had six years to find a replacement mechanism to provide health insurance to Americans who cannot afford it otherwise. They have failed. They’ve come up with … nothing!

The alternative to flat-out repeal is to repair the ACA.

Congress enacted Medicare in 1965 to provide medical insurance to elderly Americans. It wasn’t perfect, either. Congress and President Johnson got together to tinker with it, to fine-tune it, to make it better. The same can be said of what Congress and other president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did with Social Security when they created that program in 1935.

Reasonable minds can come together to make landmark laws better. It’s been done. Why not now?

Well, my theory is that it’s because the ACA has President Obama’s name on it. It’s been called Obamacare chiefly by those who use that term as a pejorative. They don’t like something that carries the name of a president who House and Senate Republicans have opposed since the beginning of his time in the White House.

I get that the ACA isn’t perfect. I understand that premiums have increased, that health insurance companies are bailing out, that consumers are having trouble finding doctors who will treat those covered by insurance provided by the ACA.

Aren’t there reasonable solutions to fix these problems? Can’t the ACA opponents huddle with those in Congress who support the plan to repair the law?

Oh, no! They’ve got to toss the ACA into the trash heap. They want to declare victory by calling it a “monumental failure,” a “disaster,” a “terrible idea.”

Twenty million Americans have health insurance today who didn’t have it before the ACA became law in 2010. Congressional Republicans are quite sure they can repeal the ACA. Finding a replacement is a bit more of a hurdle.

They have precedent, though, for seeking ways to repair what many folks believe is a flawed idea.

Compromise, folks! That’s how you govern effectively. You either have Americans’ interests at heart, or you are thinking only of your own political futures.

Words ‘I am retired’ flowing more easily

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This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

You might not think this is a big deal, but it is to me.

The words “I am retired” are flowing more easily out of my pie hole these days.

I get asked frequently by customers at the auto dealership where I work: “Do you do this full time, part time or what? Are you retired?”

My answer: “Oh I’m retired now.”

Actually, my presence at the auto dealership reveals that I am not yet fully retired. I’m getting there, slowly but inexorably.

I’ll admit to being a bit uncomfortable saying “I am retired” when I first started collecting my Social Security income. My discomfort wasn’t anything that I can identify. I didn’t have pangs in my gut. I didn’t stutter when I said it. I didn’t flinch, wince or grimace at the sound of the words.

It was just a strange set of words coming from me, of all people, a guy who had worked pretty damn hard for nearly 40 years in daily journalism. Then it ended. I was sent out to pasture, along with a number of other, um, more mature fellow practitioners of this noble craft.

I have admitted already that I wasn’t ready for the day I tendered my resignation after being told someone else would be doing the job I had been doing at my last newspaper stop here in Amarillo. Instead of seeking another job at the Globe-News, I decided to quit.

Boom, just like that, my career was over.

The onset of retirement is sounding more comfortable to me these days. I’ve still got a couple of part-time jobs that keep me busy. There’s the Street Toyota auto dealership customer service gig; there’s also my freelance writing gig at KFDA NewsChannel 10.

However, I am feeling more retired these days than not.

What’s more, I am quite comfortable saying it out loud.

Ain’t it cool?

Down to just three jobs

retirement_road

This is another in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

Four jobs have turned to just three.

More or less.

I worked my last shift today as a “regular” part-time employee of an Amarillo auto dealership where I’ve been working for more than two years.

No, I didn’t quit. I merely asked to work on an “as-needed basis.” Someone calls in sick? Or goes on vacation? Or gets stuck in the snow and ice? Call me. I’ll be available . . . maybe.

My availability will depend mostly on whether my wife and I are on the road tooling around the country towing our fifth wheel, or visiting with our granddaughter — and her parents and two brothers — in Allen, Texas.

This retirement status has been slow to take root. I’m continuing to have too much fun as a freelance blogger for two media outlets. I’m continuing to write news features for NewsChannel10.com, which is the website for KFDA-TV in Amarillo. I also am writing blogs for PanhandlePBS.com, offering perspective on public affairs programming. The third job involves editing news copy and proofreading pages for a weekly newspaper in Tucumcari, N.M.

I’m now officially a Social Security recipient, joining my wife, who decided to take “early retirement” a couple of years ago. Social Security says that at my age I am able to collect “full retirement benefits.”

But the idea of going to work two or three — or sometimes four — days a week became something that I found less appealing now that our household income took a dramatic boost once Social Security benefits began arriving.

I don’t intend to quit the auto dealer job entirely. However, as retirement inches closer, I am looking forward to spending a lot more time at home doing what I enjoy the most . . . which is to write.

And, oh yes. I also will keep pounding away from this platform.

 

Social Security has arrived

retirement_road

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

The phone rang; caller ID informed me, “U.S. Government.”

I answered. The lady on the other end said, “May I speak with John Kanelis?” Yes, I said. You are speaking to him.

It was the Social Security Administration and after answering some “security questions” — Mom’s maiden name, place of birth … that kind of thing — the nice lady told me my Social Security benefit has been approved.

My head is spinning.

She told me when it would start arriving. She gave me the amount. She answered a couple of questions regarding my eligibility to keep earning income outside of Social Security. I thanked her, hung up the phone and now am wondering: How many of these four part-time jobs I am working do I want to keep?

I think I’ll keep all of them … at least for the time being.

The biggest head-spinner of all is the speed with which I received the call.

I applied online for the SS benefit on Sunday. Today is Wednesday. It’s the morning of the third business day after I submitted my application. I had received an e-mail from Social Security that informed me I could check after five business days on the status of my application. I reckon I don’t need to check now.

This is utterly amazing.

What in the world ever happened to the federal government that supposedly took forever to do anything on request? Furthermore, whatever happened to the cold-hearted, borderline rude federal bureaucrats with whom one dealt whenever one had an issue with the government? The individual with whom I spoke was courteous, pleasant and answered my questions with ease.

I told you the other day I was a happy fellow.

Today, I am even happier.

 

Taking the big leap toward retirement

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This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I am a happy man today.

Perhaps you’re asking, “Why?” Well, I’ll tell you.

This morning I took the huge — or, as Donald Trump would say, “Yuuuuuge!” — leap toward retirement by applying for my Social Security benefits.

My 66th birthday is right around the corner. That’s when I become eligible to draw full retirement benefit from the Social Security Administration. That means I can draw the benefit and keep working part-time — which I intend to do.

On the advice of three women I trust implicitly — starting with my wife — I made the decision to go ahead and not wait any longer.

The other two are our tax accountant and the manager of our retirement investment portfolio. They both have concluded that it’s best to go now. Don’t wait any longer, they say, even though the longer I would have waited the more I could get monthly once I got approved.

Part of my Social Security income will be subject to income taxation if I earn more than a certain amount annually. But it’s a small enough portion, with the tax liability being minimal, I figure, “Why not go now?”

I should stipulate as well that I’ve never minded paying taxes. Unlike some of my fellow Americans out there who rant, rave and rebel against paying taxes, I never have harbored that kind of anti-tax sentiment.

I made the application this morning and ever since submitting the information online I’ve feeling strangely satisfied that I’ve done the right thing.

I want to add another good word. Many of us bitch constantly about the government and its sometimes-complicated machinery. I was amazed today at the ease of applying for this benefit online. The questions were clear; the government website provided “help” links if I stumbled — and yes, I checked with two of them to make sure I was answering the questions correctly.

It was easy, man.

It’s a big step. I had been looking forward to taking it for a good while. Now that I’ve taken it, I’m feeling even better about the decision my wife and I have made.

 

 

Social Security makes my head spin

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

This morning my wife and I had a conversation with a woman who manages our retirement account. She is as sharp as they come and she works for one of the financial services giants.

It involved Social Security. I’m about to become fully eligible for SSI benefits. That will happen near the end of the year when I turn 66 years of age.

So, what’s the issue? Easy to do. Just sign up and start collecting the benefit into which I paid for my entire working life. No sweat, right?

Oh, no. Not even close.

I’m likely going to have to jettison one or more of the part-time jobs I’ve been working at since the fall of 2012, shortly after my full-time job as a print journalist came to a screeching halt.

Why is that? I’d make too much money … possibly. If I earn too much income in addition to what Social Security benefits I’d start collecting, the federal government could start taxing me heavily on the SSI income.

Don’t want to do that.

Do I want to wait until I’m 70, at which time the monthly benefit would increase? Probably not. I’m still working those part-time jobs, and by the time I turn 70 1/2 years of age, I need to start withdrawing money annually from the retirement fund my wife and I have built over many years of hard work.

That money becomes part of our taxable income.

So that money also is factored into what the feds can tax us.

At this point, as I listened to our financial adviser explain all this, I could feel the veins in my neck start to throb.

My wife and I had gone downtown to get some answers to a simple question: When is the best time to collect Social Security; do we do it now or do we wait?

It turns out there’s no simple answer to the question. It’s complicated. Highly complicated.

The more I listened to all of these explanations of what happens if we do this or that, or don’t do any of it, the more I began to think that perhaps the tax-simplification advocates out there may be on to something.

Our adviser’s final recommendation: Come back and see me just about the time of your 66th birthday and we’ll see where we stand.

I want to collect the benefit to which I’m entitled. However, these jobs I’m working are providing me with too much fun to give any of them up.

Little did I realize that retirement could be so complicated.