NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unspoken Issue: Generational Fairness

August 14, 2000

We need to discuss generational fairness, says Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson. Both Democrats and Republicans are proposing legislation that -- whatever its other merits -- would pit retirees against workers. That is already true under existing programs, but hundreds of billions of dollars more are at stake.

Workers' taxes already pay retirement benefits, mainly through Social Security and Medicare. Those benefits now account for a third of the federal budget and average $17,700 for each person older than 65, says the Congressional Budget Office.

  • President Clinton urges a Medicare prescription drug benefit with a cost estimated somewhere between $250 billion and $338 billion from 2001 to 2010.
  • Congressional Republicans want to reduce income taxes paid by Social Security recipients on their benefits, cutting tax revenue by more than $100 billion over a decade.
  • The House of Representatives has voted to eliminate gradually the estate tax ("the death tax"), with a projected revenue loss of $105 billion for the decade.
  • Clinton and Republicans both have proposed long-term care tax credits for nursing home and home health care -- a modest $27 billion over a decade for Clinton's plan, to begin with.

If you raise benefits for retirees or cut their taxes, you increase the burden on workers -- or compel cutbacks in the rest of government. The climate needs to be less lopsided in favor of retirees and more sensitive to the needs of workers, their families and the rest of government, says Samuelson.

Source: Robert Samuelson (Newsweek), "Graying politics," Dallas Morning News, August 11, 2000.


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