Social Security and Medicare represent America's promise that after a lifetime of hard work and paying into the system, senior citizens have earned greater financial security in their golden years, free from abject poverty. Likewise, Medicaid is a commitment to the very poor and disabled that they not be left hopeless and without medical care.
My mother and father taught my three sisters and me that when you give your word, you keep it. My neighbors in Pinellas County, who I am proud to represent, expect that commitment of their leaders.
Social Security remains strong and solvent, but only for the next 17 years. After that, it faces a shortfall, only able to pay 75 percent of its promised benefits. Rather than breaking our promise to our seniors and forcing retirees to shoulder benefit cuts that Republican leaders have proposed — across-the-board cuts, inadequate cost of living adjustments and privatization — Congress needs to work together to keep America's word and strengthen Social Security.
One way to strengthen Social Security is to do what's known as "scrapping the cap." Americans only contribute to Social Security on the first $127,200 in income earned every year. That makes no sense. Why should the very wealthiest get a tax break, when nurses, electricians and clerks at Publix pay into the system on 100 percent of their earnings? Closing this loophole would extend the program for at least another generation.
During my campaign for Congress, I promised to introduce legislation to strengthen Social Security. I am doing just that with my first bill, the Save Social Security Act. This legislation eliminates the Social Security tax break for people making over $300,000 a year, while maintaining it for income earned from the current cap of $127,200 up to $300,000.
It also ends the nonsensical practice of "double taxation" on Social Security benefits for middle class seniors. Currently, seniors pay taxes when they receive their Social Security benefits, even though they were taxed to create those benefits throughout their working lives. That's wrong!
But the fight for our seniors does not stop there. The speaker of the House has proposed eliminating the Medicare guarantee and replacing it with a voucher. That means Medicare pays less and you pay more. Additionally, the Republican repeal and "replace" health care plan would slash Medicaid, the No. 1 payer of long-term care for older Americans. In Pinellas, this would force nursing homes to close and put tens of thousands more seniors and the disabled on waiting lists.
Seniors earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits. And the very poor and disabled would be lost without Medicaid. It is our duty as elected representatives to protect them, which strengthens the fabric of our nation, making society healthier and communities stronger.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, represents the 13th Congressional District.