Seniors Shouldn’t be Sacrificed for the Economy – or Anything Else

Listening to President Trump and some of his political allies, you might think that the lives of society’s most vulnerable members in this pandemic were less important than the economy – especially seniors. While the president was in a rush to restart normal economic activity by Easter (against the advice of the nation’s top health experts), a prominent Republican – Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – suggested that seniors are expendable in the face of economic turmoil. As he told FOX news:

“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX)

Lt. Gov. Patrick, a 69 year-old Tea Party favorite, presumes to speak for all seniors when he says that they would gladly sacrifice their lives so that younger people don’t have to suffer through a COVID-19 recession. For starters, most older Americans most certainly would prefer to stay alive while the nation takes reasonable steps to contain COVID-19, understanding that public health is paramount even if the economy takes a temporary hit. Secondly, prematurely re-starting economic business as usual would endanger the economic and physical health of all Americans – regardless of age.

“Anybody who thinks we should prematurely end social distancing for the sake of the economy is fooling themselves. In the long run, the economy is going to be much better off if we end the pandemic — and the only way we can do that is by social distancing.” – Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

On Tuesday, President Trump seemed to pick-up on talk of sacrificing seniors for the greater economic good, posting a paradoxical tweet that pays lip service to protecting older Americans while pushing to re-start the economy as if it wouldn’t risk seniors’ health.

“Our people want to return to work… Seniors will be watched over protectively and lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM!” – President Trump’s tweet, 3/24/20

Fortunately, there has been considerable public pushback against both Lt. Gov Patrick’s comments and the president’s apparent hurry to re-start regular commerce within a couple of weeks, the consequences be damned.

“Patrick seems to envision a dynamic in which the economy returns to normal as some elderly Americans succumb to a deadly virus, effectively taking one for the team. But among the reasons that’s ridiculous is there can be no economic normalcy while a pandemic sweeps through the populace.” – Steve Benen, MSNBC columnist

Twitter lit up with objections to Trump’s and Patrick’s comments under the hashtag #NotDying4WallStreet:

I’m #NotDying4WallStreet and neither should you, your parents, or your grandparents.

People over 60 are providers, parents, grandparents, friends, colleagues, and spouses. They are human beings who are loved and add value.

I’m definitely #NotDyingForWallStreet, nor are my parents, in-laws, or 103 year old grandmother!

I vow to keep older Americans & those at higher risk safe by staying quarantined.

Mainstream media commentators (including CNN’s Gloria Borger) and state leaders (especially New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) have also condemned calls to restart business as usual too fast – and risking seniors’ lives to do so.

While it’s gratifying that many Americans reject Patrick’s and Trump’s pronouncements, there is a larger context here. No one really believes seniors will be pressured to forfeit their lives for the economy, but President Trump and his allies have frequently advocated policies that will cost seniors a considerable degree of their financial and health security – which ultimately can become life and death issues for the elderly.

The President championed a full payroll tax holiday in response to COVID-19, which would undermine Social Security – a program 64 million seniors and disabled Americans rely on. His budgets have called for billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (which pays for impoverished seniors’ long-term care). The administration and its allies in Congress have an intense desire to use senior’s programs to help pay for the added deficit created by the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017, which primarily benefitted the wealthy and big corporations. Even Meals on Wheels and home energy assistance for low-income seniors were on Trump’s chopping block.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has imposed work requirements and erected other barriers that are stripping low-income patients (including older Americans) of their Medicaid benefits. During annual open enrollment, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has actively undermined traditional Medicare, tilting consumer information toward privatized Medicare Advantage plans – which can cost seniors more in the long run and limit their choice of providers.

To advance their agenda, the “entitlement reformers” who have the president’s ear (despite his promises not to touch Social Security or Medicare), often employ the tactic of generational warfare to pit younger against older Americans. In truth, the interests of both generations are aligned, because today’s young people are tomorrow’s seniors – and will depend on their earned benefits in retirement more than ever. Besides, most children and grandchildren do not want to see their older loved ones’ benefits endangered.

The National Committee will continue to take every opportunity to remind the public how seniors – and the programs they paid for – stabilize our families, our communities, and, yes, our economy. Asking Americans to choose between the interests of seniors and younger people presents a false choice. Their well-being is deeply intertwined. Older Americans and their families shouldn’t tolerate rhetoric or policies that threaten seniors’ health and security – or their value to our nation.