BUZ LIVINGSTON: Another year, another fiscal dilemma

Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 08:00 AM.

Some scoffed when Gov. Romney defended the infamous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” article by claiming a copy editor wrote the headline. He gets a pass. As all writers know, copy editors oversee headlines. Rarely does a columnist have veto power. Some editors write every headline, others allow input. The Motley Fool routinely had best headline contests — four words or less. Brevity is clarity, remember Hemingway’s short story, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

To counter electronic media’s meteoric assent, Financial Advisor, while still delivering monthly print editions, previews columns via email. One column landed in my Inbox titled, “More Self-Described Conservatives Getting Government Benefits.” I clicked. The authors pulled their data from a Pew Research study showing 56 percent of self-described conservatives received government benefits compared with 53 percent for liberal and moderates. Considering the poll’s margin of error, Pew’s headline “A Bipartisan Nation of Beneficiaries” is more accurate. I clicked on the link and that’s what the bean counters wanted.

Pew’s research, done in late November through early December, showed 55 percent of Americans collect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or unemployment benefits. The survey also showed an additional 16 percent with a family member receiving benefits.

The problem for Congress is over 70 percent of the country either receives benefits or has a family member receiving them. When I woke up Sunday morning, the Tea Party Express lady was bemoaning our spending problem. She felt strongly Congress should address entitlements but neglected to mention any specifics.  Americans want changes in entitlements but not changes in benefits.

Any retirement planner worth their salt knows Social Security is essential for a secure retirement, but Social Security is underfunded albeit slightly. Medicare poses much more pressing problem. Everyone over 65 loves Medicare, especially those who formerly bought individual health insurance.

Americans should face the reality that Medicare will require higher taxes, higher premiums or fewer services. It’s math and not quantum physics. Yes, every worker pays into Medicare and Social Security, some like me pay both sides.  If your solution only involves entitlement cuts and these two are off the table then to borrow a line from Tom Hanks … “we have a problem.” 

Things could change by the time we go to press but as my deadline nears it remains unclear if we go off the fiscal cliff, stumble on the fiscal curb or slide down a fiscal slope. We could fix this in 48 hours; require Congress to stay in one room with only CNBC playing and turn the volume up to Owsley Brothers decibel levels every time someone utters “fiscal cliff.”

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