If there’s any surprise to the news that Social Security has reached the end of the time when its income is sufficient to cover its payments, it could only be that some people express surprise about it.

No one should have to be explaining this again, but let’s do the review: Social Security is composed of two federal funds.

The first takes in SS payroll tax payments and recycles them out again to current beneficiaries. The second maintains Treasury bonds — IOUs bearing “the full faith and credit of the United States.”

They represent the fact that every single dollar that the first fund took in from taxes in excess of what was needed to pay current benefits was immediately taken by the government and spent on something else.

The bonds represent the government’s promise to pay that diverted revenue back to the first fund out of future revenues or other borrowing when it is needed in the future.

Even though we were told as recently as 2007 that this day wouldn’t come until 2017 or so, the future couldn’t be postponed. The economy’s nosedive and recent temporary tax cuts moved it forward to today.

Social Security isn’t “broke” — it’s taking in almost enough money to pay benefits, if you think a $45 billion shortfall this year as “almost enough.” Projections now are that the bonds will run out in 2037.

Yes, raising the retirement age and the current $106,800 salary ceiling on payments (and counting on historical levels of inflation) would give the system more decades to go, but somebody still has to pay for the bonds (go look in the mirror to see who that is).

Further, budgeteers in Congress now have to zero out the income they have been taking from the SS surplus and find that money elsewhere. That is to say, from spending cuts, higher taxes or borrowing.

Isn’t that great? No, I don’t think so either. Despite the fact I turned 65 last year.

Oh, my checks will come. Will my kids’ checks be assured? Heck, I only want them to keep working so I can get paid.

Intergenerational theft is such a great thing, we have made it the center of other programs, too. Can you say Medicare? I knew you could.

It’s hard to understand, but I utterly know there is someone reading this who is saying, “What about all the money I put in my account over all those years? Why, this guy is saying it doesn’t even exist!”

Yes, I am, and for the good and sufficient reason that it doesn’t. You don’t have an account, you only have an account number.

The money you paid was all spent years ago for our parents’ benefits, or for people from their age on down to those who retired last year.

All your number represents is the obligation the law places on people born later than you were to pay into the system so you can get your checks. And as the number of beneficiaries rises and the number of workers relatively declines, the burden on each worker rises.

How long before they revolt and demand the law be changed? Hey, they’re your kids, you tell me. And if you think Social Security is bad, Medicare is worse. A lot worse. But didn’t Obamacare solve that? Only if you think that taking money out of Medicare to pay for other mandatory insurance is a way to make Medicare more solvent, which is what Congress did.

I and many others would say that a system in which contributors owned their own accounts, and could tell how much was in them, and could even pass them on to their heirs, would be a far more just, honest and reliable way to provide security for retirement.

Which is why such changes are so greatly resisted. If you aren’t dependent on the government for the food you eat and the medicine you take, well, you might not vote for the people who say they will keep others from taking it away — even though the money they’re using comes out of your own kids’ incomes. Or is borrowed from China.

Anyway, there are some folks who want to resolve this Ponzi scheme before it collapses around our kids’ ears.

Social Security can be “fixed” for our lifetimes (and Gen X and Y’s, too) with higher taxes and another few years’ hike in the age at which full benefits can be taken.

Medicare is a different beast, regardless of what happens to Obamacare (and my prediction is that what succeeds it will be far different).

A Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (who just gave the response to the State of the Union speech) and Alice Rivlin, a Democrat who is a former director of the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office and who was a member of President Obama’s national deficit commission, have come up with a plan to fix it.

But of course it is being panned because it sees that the present system not only goes broke, but so does the nation.

Their plan, which would begin with people retiring in 2021, would turn Medicare from an open-ended plan into a defined benefit, with seniors getting vouchers to buy insurance. The idea is that competition would offer products that would be adequate for seniors’ care without busting the treasury.

There are plenty of people who doubt that will happen, but it is utterly certain that the current system will bankrupt us.

The operative principle is the one that says that if something can’t continue, it won’t continue. Borrowing money from our kids to pay for our own benefits can’t continue.

The only question is when and how it will stop. We control that decision now. There will come a time, however, when it will be taken out of our hands.

People my age likely won’t be around to see that. But you younger folks will. What are you going to do about it?

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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