By Reed Galen, RCP
Following a protest staged by rankled seniors last month outside his appearance at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Calif., Alan Simpson, co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Commission on deficit reduction, penned a note to the group expressing, as only he can, his feelings for the demonstrators.
“What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the ‘greedy geezers’ like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap,” the distinctively blunt former Wyoming senator wrote.
He’s right. The debate over the deficit, debt, Social Security and Medicare isn’t about today’s beneficiaries. It’s about Generations X and Y, the Millennials and whatever fancy name demographers will call my kids when they come of age.
The Oakland protesters were angered by the mere suggestion that the U.S. raise its retirement age to 69 as a way of ensuring the solvency of Social Security. “Read the latest news from the Social Security Trustees,” Simpson said in his letter to the California Alliance for Retired Americans. “The Social Security System will now ‘hit the skids’ in 2033 instead of 2036. If you can’t understand all of this you need a pane of glass in your navel so that you can see out during the day!”
To Tom Rankin, the group’s treasurer, the real crime here wasn’t generational theft: It was Alan Simpson’s “insulting” language.
Here’s a news flash for the Paramount picketers: Your benefits are secure. The changes being contemplated only apply to future retirees.
There is a good chance that many of my generation will never “retire” — at least not as that concept has been understood up until now. As Simpson notes in his letter, the Social Security Trust Fund is set to go belly-up in 2033. Regardless of “retirement age,” I’ll still be a decade away from benefits that my cohort and I will never receive.
Whether assailing Simpson-Bowles, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plans, or anyone with the temerity to publicly express the desire and need to get our financial house in order, the army of retirees marches up to Capitol Hill and scares the hell out of Congress. The oldsters are powerful, organized, and well funded. They vote in bigger numbers than any other demographic bloc.
The rest of us need to take a page from their playbook and get more involved. If not, we only ensure that our future and our children’s will be jeopardized by those who won’t suffer the consequences. We, the members of Generation X, and those that follow us need to make our voices heard this year and in every coming election cycle.
Times have changed, but our participation in the political process relative to the importance of the issues currently facing us has been inadequate. As I noted in a previous column, 63 of our 100 United States senators are over the age of 60. No wonder they are so responsive to those about to enroll in Social Security and Medicare.
We need to force our politicians — local, state and federal — to pay attention to the issues that concern us. Decisions made, or not made, by current officeholders will impact the country’s economy and basic makeup for decades to come. We cannot afford, literally, to sit this one out.
Our generation was originally characterized as disinterested. Now we’ve grown up, and it is time for us to start acting like adults when it comes to politics.
We’ll have only ourselves to blame if we wake up as grandparents to see a country and economy that leaves our grandchildren grasping at straws for a better life. I, for one, don’t plan to leave something that important up to chance — or, frankly, to the people who have so clearly shown an unwillingness or inability to do anything about it.