The notion that the benefits are an earned right separates Social Security from means-tested income-support programs. ... Means testing is a feature of taxpayer-funded welfare programs designed to help the poor. A means test would inevitably erode the universal and contributory nature of Social Security and some of the popular support that has sustained it for nearly 75 years ~ John Rother; an excerpt from his 1/29/2010 article "Don't Means Test Social Security" from the "political opinion" section of US News & World Report.
The following discussion/rant is an excerpt from the Thom Hartmann Radio Program, 8/11/2011, which I edited for brevity and clarity. Thom answers a caller's question regarding means testing programs like Social Security and Medicare...
Caller: Wouldn't it make sense to put the people in the program that actually need the assistance, and leave the people who don't need to be in the program out of it? Putting everyone under one umbrella is going to be a lot more inefficient and a lot more expensive? Take care of the people who need taking care of and leave the rest of the people out.
Thom Hartmann: You just brought up my favorite Republican talking point. This is probably one of the most sick and twisted Republican talking points that's out there. This is the Republican plan to destroy Social Security and Medicare... through something called means testing. There are 132 thousand people in the United States who make over a million dollars a year. And so they're saying why are those people getting a social security check? Why does Warren Buffett who's 80 years old... why is he eligible for Medicare?
Well, here's why... it's very simple. When you start means testing a program, when you say that anyone who has "means", anyone who is rich shouldn't get that program, only the people who need the program, who don't have means should be in the program... then that programs becomes what's called Welfare. Now, when Bill Clinton came into office... of the people who lived below the poverty line - 57 percent were eligible for Welfare.
After Clinton's Welfare reform, which sold well to the American people, because we were in the middle of the dot-com bubble... everybody, Democrats and Republicans looked and said there aren't that many poor people anymore... so let's cut the Welfare programs. Let's make it harder for people to stay on Welfare for extended periods of time. Now it's down to 27 percent. Only 27 percent of people who are actually in poverty can get Welfare.
Because, in large part, because of the changes that were made during the Clinton administration. Although there were changes made before and after... this isn't a bash Bill Clinton screed. The point here is that when something is only available to poor people... poor people don't make campaign contributions. Poor people do not have lobbyists in Washington DC. And so the first thing that goes on the chopping block are programs only for poor people. If you want to destroy Social Security and Medicare, the first thing you do is get all the rich people out of it by means testing.
That way it's no longer an insurance program that covers everybody. Then, once you get them out of it in terms of it in terms of benefits. Then you can say why are they paying into it, because they're getting nothing out of it? Then you can cut even more money out of it, and now you've got a program that's really in a crisis.
This is the Republican strategy... to sound very reasonable... whether it's in an editorial that they're writing for the newspaper, or it's in a phone call to a radio show... This is one of the slickest, sneakiest, most slimy and disgusting strategy going. Saying we need to means test Social Security and Medicare and turn them into Welfare programs.
Note: If you are a subscriber to the Thom Hartmann program podcast, the location of this segment of audio can be found at 13:02 to 16:54 of Hour 3 on Wednesday August 24 of 2011.
See Also: [Contra O'Reilly, 4/24/2015] On the Fact that Means-Testing Social Security and Medicare Used to Be a Liberal Position (Jimmy Carter, to His Credit, Has Advocated it) but Because that Idiot, Thom Hartmann, Came Up with Some Paranoiac Theory that this Would Lead to the Program's Total Demise, it Isn't Any Longer.