WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama's deficit reduction commission said Wednesday that it is recommending painful changes to retirement benefits that the President has so far been afraid to propose on his own.
The new austerity measures include a proposal to advance the U.S. retirement age from 66 to 80 in a bid to balance the books on Social Security by 2034.
The announcement came as a surprise even though Obama had previously urged the 18-member bipartisan panel to "keep all of its options open to fight exploding deficits."
"The path forward contains many difficult trade-offs and choices," said Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke. "But postponing those choices and failing to put the nation's finances on a sustainable long-run trajectory would ultimately do great damage to our economy."
The move tests President Obama's resolve as he attempts to cut the federal deficit while spending money like nobody's business. It follows similar, less drastic moves in countries like France, which recently decided to raise its retirement age to 62 over the course of the next 18 years.
In the U.S., the changes would become effective immediately. "After all, the U.S. isn't some stodgy little European country with cheap socialized medicine and a weak, pathetic deficit amounting to a mere single-digit percentage of its gross domestic product," laughed Bernanke.
So, that would mean it's back to work for many Americans. Americans like Claude Grenouille, 86. "I used to... sack groceries in the 1980's," he whispered, "but now I've got this... oxygen tank to wheel around! I don't... I don't know... what I would do... if they...
"Excuse me," he added breathlessly, slumping into his wheelchair like a damp, liver-spotted washcloth. "I need to... sit down for a moment!"
The problem stems from federal debt, which currently stands at more than $13 trillion, mainly because the budget of the United States has only been balanced three times in the last 50 years: In 2000, in 1999, and in 1960.
Social Security is in trouble because Democrats and Republicans have shown a strong bipartisan commitment to raiding Americans' retirement savings almost since the program's inception in 1935. They thoughtfully left IOU's, but the U.S. Treasury is bankrupt because the government keeps running a deficit.
Meanwhile, life expectancy has been increasing. In 1935, a typical American male could expect to get screwed by the government for about 58 years. Now, it's more like 78.
If old people would just die when they're supposed to like they still do in countries like Russia, Social Security should theoretically run a surplus. Unfortunately, most Americans would rather stick around and get in everybody's way for a couple of extra decades.
Raising the retirement age to 80 should effectively put an end to that while helping to fund their beloved government program. After having paid Social Security for decades, Bernanke explained, most Americans ought to work themselves to death long before they attain the new advanced retirement age.
"It's a stiff price to pay," he noted wryly, "but in the end, filling America's treasury coffers should be as easy as filling coffins with our treasured Americans."