Two days ago my mother turned 66 years old. I wish I could devote this blog merely to that fact, but present circumstances prevent me from doing so, and require me to focus on some of the less pleasant aspects of her current living situation.
Mom, although certainly a strong and independent woman, always wished to be a homemaker. After my sister was born in 1966, Mom gave herself over entirely to parenting and homemaking. In my younger years Mom kept a small garden in our backyard, and she did a bit of babysitting in the early 1980s when we were hit by the recession, but she was devoted to Dad and her children above all else. When Dad started his own company in 1987, Mom agreed to be Dad’s secretary, taking care of his office, and eventually even learned to do a little 2-D CAD work, although in the final years of the business, after Dad moved it into an addition of our house, she didn’t have that much CAD work to do.
When Dad died a few years ago, the business basically died with him. However, my parents were both advanced enough in age that Mom was able to start collecting on Dad’s Social Security. Because the business was a sole proprietorship, Dad contributed a lot of money to Social Security, so Mom’s monthly Social Security payments are above what I understand to be average. Unfortunately, because Dad took out some loans in the last years of his company that had to be paid back, and because Mom’s diverticulitis started before she qualified for Medicare and her medical bills piled up during that time, her Social Security doesn’t stretch quite as well as most people would think. She’s nearly blind now, so it’s not realistic to expect her to get a job, and I haven’t been able to help with the bills as much as usual lately due to unforeseen difficulties on my own end.
I haven’t been paying close attention to politics like I used to do, so I admit I’m not as qualified to discuss the particulars of the current crisis surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling as I’d like. I’m well enough versed in the economic fundamentals of deficit spending and the “rationale” (if it can be called that) of the Tea Party, though, to at least make a couple of points on this issue that is likely to strike much closer to my family home than many other political issues of recent years have.
First of all, at this point it is almost a foregone conclusion that, at the end of this current crisis, Mom’s Social Security payments will be substantially reduced. You can argue about whether or not we should have Social Security, but that is an argument separate from what should be done now about those who presently depend on Social Security. These are people whose hard work paid into that fund for decades upon decades, with the understanding that when they grew old, or infirm, or had other major life difficulties, Social Security would be there for them. Even the craziest of Tea Party candidates in the last midterm elections did not dare to say that the government should break the promise implicit in all those years of Social Security payments and not give recipients the money they’d been promised all their lives. Perhaps Mom will be able to weather the upcoming reduction in her payments, but there will doubtlessly be those families who will now be unable to pay critical bills because their benefit payments will be reduced. I have much more to say about this, but I will withhold those comments until after the current crisis has abated.
For now, the other big point I want to make is the immediate danger of what will happen if the United States has to stop making benefit payments altogether — to say nothing of other things like payments of veterans’ benefits — if the debt ceiling is not raised. If a reduction in Social Security benefits will put many in crisis, not paying those benefits for any substantial length of time — even several days — would be catastrophic. The terror of such a scenario is magnified all the more by how right-wing politicking is to blame for this. As with the health care debate, President Whitmore has compromised his own position repeatedly, compromising with right-wingers who simply will not compromise at all. Spurred on by their midterm election victories, the Tea Partiers and the hard-right wing of the Republican Party, led by Speaker John Boehner, have continued to push their own goalposts further and further to the right, continuing the push even as “default doomsday” is less than a week away. It is like the Republicans, drunk with the power they possess (even though they only control half the Legislative branch, mind you), have decided to play a game of chicken with the entire US economy, and as they get closer and closer to total destruction they’re stepping even harder on the gas pedal.
Perhaps they are counting on Democrats, from President Whitmore on down, capitulating to their demands, and given how the Democrats have behaved in my lifetime I can hardly blame them for assuming that to be a likely scenario. Perhaps, like the government shutdowns of the mid-90s, President Whitmore will simply let the nation default, thinking that Speaker Boehner will bear the brunt of the blame in the public eye just as Newt Gingrich did two decades ago. I’d like to think President Whitmore will raise the debt ceiling by executive order, invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and deal with a political crisis rather than an economic crisis, but he’s already indicated he’s loathe to do that, even given the potentially catastrophic consequences.
For me and my family, the mid-90s government shutdowns were mostly politics and didn’t affect us directly. If Mom doesn’t get her next Social Security benefit payment, or if her benefits are greatly reduced, it will most certainly affect this family in a very profound way. In a summer where we’ve already had to deal with 100-degree heat, she might no longer be able to afford to air condition her house. She might not be able to pay other bills and end up losing important services like water and garbage. She and Dad paid their Social Security, paid their bills, paid for this house, and now it may all disappear because some right wing politicians and the Tea Party mobs they’ve nourished these past couple of years would rather inflict grievous harm on the United States and its economy — and its people — than provide for the old and infirm as the old and infirm were promised all their lives.
The chance that this current crisis will victimize Mom is small, but it is substantial and it is real. Doubtlessly other families, not as lucky as ours, will suffer greatly as a result of what is currently going on in Washington. These are not people who are “lazy” or “unmotivated” or anything of the sort; these are innocent people who paid their fair share to the government with the promise of getting that money back when they needed it, and now some of them are likely to go bankrupt or worse because a small, vocal contingent of right-wingers are intent on crashing the country’s economy, even if it means the practical destruction of some families in the process.
I cannot speak of everyone who stands to suffer as a result of what Republicans and the Tea Party are presently doing, but I can say this with absolute certainty and clarity: My mother deserves better.