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  1. Opinion

How to improve Social Security or Medicare | Charlie Crist

President Donald Trump should not be open to cuts.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg

What is the value of a promise? I was raised to believe in the importance of keeping a promise – especially when others are depending on it.

Social Security and Medicare are the promise that if you work hard and pay into the system your entire adult lives, you will be supported in retirement, disability, or death of a breadwinner. When Social Security became law on Aug. 14, 1935, elder poverty in America was 50 percent. Now, it is less than 10 percent. Before Social Security, many seniors had to live in the poorhouse’s squalor. Now, they can live in Florida’s sunshine. The modest, yet reliable, monthly benefit averages around $1,500, but for tens of millions of seniors, veterans, children and persons with disabilities, Social Security is the difference between a modicum of financial security in retirement and abject poverty. It is a promise that must never be broken.

Like Social Security, Medicare is a lifeline for retirees. With Medicare, America promised all its citizens – retirees and future retirees – that they could rely on affordable health care in their golden years. Because of Medicare, the struggles facing uninsured and underinsured working-age Americans do not afflict our elderly parents and grandparents. And while I strongly believe that all Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care, we shouldn’t go backward on what America is getting right. Medicare, too, is a promise that must never be broken.

Last month, President Donald Trump was asked about cutting Social Security and Medicare. I was disappointed when he said he would be open to it, calling cuts to these vital programs, “the easiest of all the things.” The president doubled down on this threat in his budget request – calling for $35 billion in cuts to Social Security and $500 billion from Medicare.

Social Security and Medicare may just be numbers on a page to the wealthiest, but to the Pinellas Park widow who watches every penny, these cuts would be disastrous. Seniors on fixed incomes are already watching their housing, food, and drug costs going up while their cost of living adjustment never seems to keep pace.

I would strongly urge the president to work on a bipartisan basis to refresh and restore the promises of Social Security and Medicare. The House recently passed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act that will finally allow Medicare to negotiate cheaper drugs. The legislation would also cap out-of-pocket drug costs and add dental, vision, and hearing coverage to the traditional Medicare plan.

We should also work together on my bill, the Save Social Security Act, which would shore up the Social Security Trust Fund without benefit cuts. By “Scrapping the Cap,” those at the top will pay into Social Security on all their income just like everyone else. My proposal would sustain Social Security into the 2060s and strengthen its finances beyond that. It also ends the double taxation on Social Security benefits for middle- and working-class seniors.

Social Security and Medicare are America’s promise to current and future retirees. Keeping that promise is a sacred duty of the people’s elected representatives, and it is the right thing to do.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is a St. Petersburg Democrat.