What Fresh Hell Is This?

January 26, 2019

Senator Toomey RESPONDS to Another Letter

It's been about a month since his last response.

As with many other letters from Senator Toomey's office, while it is a response to my letter, it in no way is an answer to it.  In this case, sadly, his pivot away from my letter leads him to some very subtle dishonesty.

The letter, dated December 17, arrived via the Post Office and begins thusly:
Thank you for contacting me about Medicare and Social Security. I appreciate hearing from you.
Now I get to see which of my (mostly) weekly letters he's answering.

When I search for "Toomey open letter medicare" in the upper left hand box of this blog, I find two letters:
The older letter does mention Medicare and Social Security:
The LA Times reported that "Senate Republicans overcame internal divisions late Thursday to approve a 2018 budget that will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years to allow for President Trump’s proposed tax cuts. They also reported that the budget "slashes domestic spending, including steep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid."

The New York Times is reporting that Trump's take plain is potentially a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans with no benefits for the bottom 1/3 and only modest benefits for the middle class. You voted for legislation that does all that and slashes Medicare and Medicaid while increasing the deficit.
I asked the senator if he could explain why he supported that budget.

But as that was almost exactly a year before the second letter (interesting coincidence, isn't it?), I can't imagine Senator Toomey (or his office) taking that much time to answer a question.  No, it's far more likely that he's responding to the later (latter?) letter.

The eighty-fourth letter frames my question with a statement by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell who said that entitlement changes are the real driver of the debt by any objective standard. I asked Senator Toomey, given his support for the tax cuts that did, in fact, raise the debt whether:
Is that your plan? To pay for your trillion dollar tax cut by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
I'll post Toomey's response in full at the bottom of this blog post but let's look at them paragraph by paragraph.  Paragraph One:
Like many Americans, I believe that Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs that provide health care coverage and other important benefits for millions of seniors. As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have noted, Medicare and Social Security programs are on an unsustainable course, especially over the long term.
As they say, this is a bit of rhetorical throat-clearing. No clue as to an answer to my question.

Paragraph Two:
The Social Security Administration and the Medicare program both have a board of trustees that release an annual report on the fiscal outlook of both programs. The most recent trustee reports for Social Security and Medicare estimate these programs will reach insolvency by 2034 and 2026, respectively.
I think Senator Toomey omitted a few very important parts to that second sentence. Take a look at this summary of the most recent Board of Trustees report (Senator, did you think I wouldn't find it??)

The summary opens with this:
Each year the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds report on the current and projected financial status of the two programs. This message summarizes the 2018 Annual Reports. [Emphasis added.]
And the reference to the Social Security Trust Fund reaching insolvency in 2034 says this:
The Trustees project that the combined trust funds will be depleted in 2034, the same year projected in last year’s report. [Emphasis added.]
In this case the "combined trust funds" are:
...the "Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivors benefits, and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund.
But the Social Security trust funds (which are projected to be insolvent in 2034) are separate from Social Security program, isn't that right Senator?

We know this by this few paragraph, a few inches down the page:
Social Security’s total cost is projected to exceed its total income (including interest) in 2018 for the first time since 1982, and to remain higher throughout the projection period. Social Security’s cost will be financed with a combination of non-interest income, interest income, and net redemptions of trust fund asset reserves from the General Fund of the Treasury until 2034 when the OASDI reserves will be depleted. Thereafter, scheduled tax income is projected to be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through the end of the projection period in 2092.
So the program would still continue (at a 3/4 rate) for another 58 years even after the trust funds are depleted?

But that's not what you said, Senator. You said he Social Security program will be insolvent by 2034 - not the trust fund. It's too easy to infer from your sentence that the program will end at that point. Something, I suppose, you're counting on.

The Senator's sleight-of-hand with Medicare is similar.  His letter states that the Medicare program will be insolvent by 2026, when it's really only one of the two Medicare trust funds.

Medicare Part A is supported by the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund and Medicare Parts B and D are supported by Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. And this is what the summary has to say about these funds:
The Trustees project that the HI Trust Fund will be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than projected in last year’s report. At that time dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 91 percent of HI costs. The Trustees project that the share of HI cost that can be financed with HI dedicated revenues will decline slowly to 78 percent in 2039, and will then rise gradually to 85 percent in 2092.
And:
For SMI, the Trustees project that both Part B and Part D will remain adequately financed into the indefinite future because current law provides financing from general revenues and beneficiary premiums each year to meet the next year’s expected costs.
But Senator, you said the program will be insolvent by 2026. Turns out only one of the trust funds is projected to be insolvent by that time - not the whole program.

But by conflating the two, and projecting to us a false picture of reality, aren't you trying to scare us into supporting you? Senator Toomey, isn't this just one big dishonest mislead here?

In any event, all this had nothing to do with the question in my letter which was:
Is that your plan? To pay for your trillion dollar tax cut by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
 So not only did you avoid answering my question you lied in that avoidance.

Nice going, Senator. You're already supporting the most corrupt President in American history. Why compound that insult by lying to your constituency?

The text of Toomey's letter:
Thank you for contacting me about Medicare and Social Security. I appreciate hearing from you.

Like many Americans, I believe that Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs that provide health care coverage and other important benefits for millions of seniors. As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have noted, Medicare and Social Security programs are on an unsustainable course, especially over the long term.

The Social Security Administration and the Medicare program both have a board of trustees that release an annual report on the fiscal outlook of both programs. The most recent trustee reports for Social Security and Medicare estimate these programs will reach insolvency by 2034 and 2026, respectively.

Looking at the numbers, it is clear that these programs are on an unsustainable course. We cannot avoid the tough choices necessary to reform Medicare, Social Security, and other programs and make sure that they are fiscally sound for future generations. For this reason I support reform of these programs and am working with my Senate colleagues on this important issue. However, reforms should not impact current retirees or those nearing retirement. Please be assured that I value your input on reforming mandatory spending and will keep your concerns in mind.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

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