Mark Thiessen has a smart column in today's Washington Post, in which he lays out how St. Paul of Ryan would end subsidies and initiate means testing for wealthy beneficiaries of taxpayer largess. I gotta be honest with you--there isn't an idea in this column I don't support. Not a one. The Kitten and I have been having a lot of discussions lately in which she accuses me of being soft on my Conservatism (this, from a closet lefty) because I support means testing, and because I support programs that would peg retired healthcare premiums to one's retirement pay--so a retired three star would pay more than a retired staff sergeant.
She gets on me about this. Her point is that presumably the healthcare is the same--so why should "richer" people pay more for it? This is a good question and it caused me to do a lot of thinking on the subject. Additionally, means testing Social Security and Medicare benefits strikes her as horrific, adding to the horror is her perception of my inconsistency.
So here goes.
I believe in the graduated income tax (uh oh, here comes Hammer). I believe it is fairer to ask people who make more money to shoulder more of the burdens of government--proportionally as well as in real terms. In theory--the graduated system works well. Now, we've screwed the system up in a way that creates a huge (47%) class of wage earners who pay no income tax, and that's wrong. But the concept of a graduated tax sits well with me. Do I think the rich should pay MORE now? No--of course not--we should cut spending, and ensure everyone pays SOMETHING in income taxes. But the system is already pointed in what I consider to be a fair direction.
Military retirement healthcare? Not so much. The system is bankrupting DoD (along with other personnel costs). There's nothing "graduated" about it. A 3 star retiring this year with 35 years of service will take in over $13K a month in pension in his first month of retirement, while an "E-6" retiring this year with 20 years of service will take in $1700 a month in his first month of retirement. For BOTH, the healthcare premium for their families under "Tricare Prime" is a little under $500 a year (or $42 a month)--which turns out to be .3% of monthly income for the three star but 2.5% of the E-6's monthly retired pay. Where is the fairness here? If it were graduated (and proportional) the three star would pay $342 a month--certainly do-able on $13K a month.
As for means testing Social Security and Medicare, the Kitten can't believe I support it. She thinks it is cosmically unfair to means test it--but again--the system is bankrupting, and social security represents an already skewed transfer of wealth from the young and productive to the old and unproductive. Sorry folks, that's indisputable. Where older folks have the means, they should have their benefits strung out over a longer period of time, in essence, reducing their checks. In a system in which more and more people are taking more out of the system than they put in (longevity), we need a way to extend the program's life to pay for what essentially is old-age welfare for those who live longer than what they paid in will support.
Hard choices here folks, and if we all don't start rowing in the same direction soon, the whole system will crash.