By Jeff Keeling
Our grandson, the ebullient Owen King Chandley, has reached a major milestone in life. Tuesday, the day he turned five, was also his first day of kindergarten at his dad Zach’s alma mater, South Side Elementary.
The lovely and talented Angela and I were blessed to spend some quality time with Owen weekend before last. The three of us tent-camped, mountain biked, swam and played at Lake Powhatan, inside the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just near Asheville, N.C.
Saturday evening, before the South Carolina lacrosse players who were camped next to us returned from their Asheville carousing and kept us awake with further carousing, we played some hands of Go Fish. Owen “knew how to play,” he told us, but his version involved putting his hand face up on the table immediately following the deal.
“That’s not the right way to play it,” I told him, explaining the obvious, that revealing his cards would practically insure he would never win. “Yes it is,” Owen replied with the surety of a 4-year-old for whom logic and common sense are optional.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s play the game your way. Then maybe we can try my way.” So Owen displayed his oversized superhero cards on the picnic table. After his turn ended, Gran Gran said, “Owen – do you have any Captain Americas (aces)?”
While he can be a stubborn child, Owen is also relatively dutiful, and he handed over the goods. So it went, through one quick hand, by the end of which a light bulb had clicked on for the youngster. We spent the next 45 minutes or so playing Pop Pop’s way. Winning the first couple of hands helped solidify in Owen’s mind the wisdom of keeping one’s cards close to one’s size 5T vest.
Owen had learned a valuable lesson and, to his benefit, put it into action. If only Congress would follow his example when it comes to the lessons contained in the 2015 report of the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. I won’t hold my breath waiting.
A few days before our camping trip, the trustees released their annual report on the fiscal condition of those funds. Nothing much had changed since the year before, or the year before that. Anyone who wanted to review the report learned, probably not for the first time, that a combination of demographic change (primarily an aging population) and Congressional inaction meant the trust funds remain headed for an unpleasant date with fiscal reality.
Social Security’s disability component is at greatest risk, with automatic reductions to disability payments likely to begin in late 2016 without Congressional action. The Medicare trust fund is projected to be depleted in 2030, leaving current dedicated revenues sufficient to pay 86 percent of costs – and just in time for my 65th birthday!
These facts don’t mean any of the funds are going to run out of money completely, or that the programs will disappear. But the writing has been on the wall for years, and Congress hasn’t had the guts to make the necessary hard decisions that, made best, would combine small benefit reductions with small tax increases. Credit our Congressman, Phil Roe, for his important role in this year’s Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which the trustees reported, “lowers projected long-range Medicare Part B costs.”
That move is a drop in the bucket, though. As the trustees conclude in their summary: “Lawmakers should address the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare as soon as possible. Taking action sooner rather than later will permit consideration of a broader range of solutions and provide more time to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.”
At the campsite card game a couple of weeks ago, Owen took action as soon as possible to improve his Go Fish prospects. For his sake much more than for mine, I hope Congress will act similarly.