That was my first reaction to this ADN letter writer.
- "I want the same health care system that my senators and congressmen and their staffs have. I also want the same retirement system that my senators and congressmen and their staffs have."
If Mr. Maxwell is making a point about the Congressional health care and retirement systems, well, there are serious issues to look at there. We could argue that lawmakers should be paid well and have good retirements so they are not as prone to corruption by all the people who want to influence them. But as we frequently see, even good pay doesn't seem to prevent this, in part because elections are so expensive.
Perhaps Congressional pensions should be contingent on a former legislator not taking lucrative jobs or contracts from people dealing with Congress. But that doesn't seem to be the drift of Mr. Maxwell's complaints here.
Another perspective is that Members of Congress worked very hard to get elected. They've put themselves up for public scrutiny and made family and financial sacrifices to serve the public. They deserve a decent compensation.
Or one could argue, this is government, taxpayer money, so tax payers have rights here they don't have with corporations. But lots of corporate profit is also taxpayer money (such as contracts to build roads, military aircraft, university buildings and sports arenas); services to government agencies; tax incentives; or various subsidies and governmental guarantees that help businesses. And all these businesses work because of government supported infrastructure whether it's roads and air traffic control or a monetary system, or the legal system, or public health programs that provide an environment where business can survive.
I don't hear complaints about corporate health care and retirement benefits in this letter. It's the relatively modest government (compared to executive level corporate) benefits. But one could argue that the jobs of legislators are similar to a board of director for a large corporation. In this case, they are the policy makers for the United States of America. These perks are part of the pay and incentive system for these positions.
Mr. Maxwell had the same opportunity to run for office and get elected and acquire a Congressional benefit package. He didn't take that route. Mr. Maxwell doesn't explain what he has done to deserve these benefits.
Perhaps he's claiming that he should have kept those dollars he had to pay as taxes. But would he have forgone the Iraq war to save all that money? Done away with the Border Patrol? He obviously doesn't want to cut social security.
Yes, there is government waste, just like there is corporate waste. If Mr. Maxwell has a better plan, he could work to convince his fellow citizens of his wisdom, get himself elected, and fix things. We all make choices in life. What sort of career we choose impacts the kinds of benefits we can expect. How we interact with others and how we spend our money throughout our lives also affects how much we will have left over when we retire.
- "They are not royalty"
Retirement benefits require some member contribution and depend on how long a person serves. These benefits are not significantly better than what employees in private sector firms made until those pension plans began to get gutted in recent years. And today, the higher level private executives, which Members of Congress would be equivalent to, still often get benefits that lure legislators and staffers out of their relatively low paying government jobs. (President Obama made $400,000 last year and Bill Weldon of Johnson and Johnson made $30 million as did Derek Jeeter.) These government benefits are based on service, not birth rights.
- "No cost-of-living increase in my Supplemental Security Income is a travesty beyond words."
|Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes):|
First, I'm sorry that Mr. Maxwell is in a situation where he requires SSI. I would note this money comes from all of us who pay taxes - general tax revenues - not from money Mr. Maxwell contributed specifically to the program. While some people would characterize this as "a handout," I recognize that many people have had accidents, illnesses, and other unavoidable problems. Programs like this help them cope. We're a rich enough country, we don't have let people starve or go homeless around us. So we help out people in trouble. It's a very Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish thing to do - help out people down on their luck.
That said, Mr. Maxwell doesn't explain why this is a travesty. A cost-of-living increase, as I understand it, is not an automatic annual increase. It is supposed to offset increases in the cost-of-living. If there is no such increase, then there is no need to increase the payment. This year there hasn't been an increase according to the data.
It's not clear why Mr. Maxwell is on SSI and how he might be affected by changes in prices. The system isn't perfect. Lower housing prices are part of the reason that there is no cost-of-living increase and people on social security (not specifically SSI) often aren't buying new homes. Meanwhile, other items that directly affect them, like health care, go up. Again, it's not simple to devise a system that works perfectly for everyone. 'Travesty' seems a bit harsh.
Mr. Maxwell may have other evidence to support his reasoning, but it seems to me it was his responsibility to get it into his letter to the editor so we could evaluate it. And there is also the chance that his letter was badly mangled by the ADN before it was published. Or maybe he wasn't trying to make a logical argument, he was just venting. If so, my apologies to Mr. Maxwell.
Everyone has a right to an opinion. But not all opinions are equal. Some opinions are better informed than others.