By Kent Jackson
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady gave the bad news first: Social Security paid out $142 billion more than it took in last year, its disability insurance program will go bankrupt in four years, and Medicare is set to run out of money in 12 years.
Then Brady, a Republican who represented the 8th Congressional District of Texas for the past 15 years, told the Hazleton Rotary Club the good news.
"I haven't seen anything we can't solve," he said.
Brady, a long-time Rotarian, met with the club during lunchtime on Wednesday before attending a private fundraiser in the evening for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11. At the Rotary meeting, Barletta introduced Brady as a "colleague, friend and mentor." They play together on the House or Representatives baseball team, too.
Brady entered Congress after directing a Chamber of Commerce office so he said he sought committee assignments "where I can help create jobs."
Now he serves on the Social Security and Trade subcommittees of the House Ways and Means Committee. He also sits on the Joint Economic Committee.
Brady said the nation recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 slower than after any of the 10 other economic slumps since World War II.
If the rebound moved even at an average pace, he said, another 4 million Americans would have gone to work this morning.
Small business owners tell him they aren't hiring because of regulations.
"You think 'That can't be that big a deal,'" Brady said. But regulations add more than $10,000 to the cost of employing one worker per year, and the government published more than 2,000 new regulations so far this year, he said.
Businesses also might be discouraged from offering health care to workers. The health care act championed by the president last year penalizes businesses that offer unapproved health plans at a rate of $3,000 per worker. Businesses that provide no health plan pay only $2,000, Brady said.
Regarding Social Security, a recent hearing that received little notice brought out that the trust fund deteriorated more last year than in the previous 20 years and that Social Security disability faces bankruptcy.
"Nobody talks about it," Brady said.
He outlined one way to preserve Social Security: For people younger than 55, set the retirement age at 70 and limit increases to costs of living. He said younger people ought to be offered an option, which was tried successfully in Galveston, Texas, in the 1980s before regulations changed, to opt out of Social Security and invest their payments in low-risk accounts.
Fixing Medicare is more difficult because of the pace at which health care costs increase, Brady said, but he called the plan of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a good start.
Ryan recommends letting Americans shop for Medicare insurance. The federal government would pay the premiums for people with low incomes and pay a varying share of the bill for other Americans depending on their incomes.
At tonight's debate between vice presidential candidates, Brady said he expects Ryan will show Americans his sincerity and knowledge of issues.
"People may attack his ideas, but they seldom come up with their own," Brady said.
After taking questions from Rotary Club members, Brady concluded by telling about two Marines he met in Texas: Bill Trio joined the Corps during World War II when he was 13 and suffered wounds in the battles of Guadalcanal and Saipan. Eddie Wright lost both arms when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle in Iraq.
Both said if they could turn back the clock, they would make the same sacrifices again.
Americans who look for their country's greatness in the size of their government always will be disappointed, Brady said, but those who look for greatness among the veterans never will be.