The annual report for the financial strength of Social Security is scheduled to be released on Friday, and will surely elicit calls that the program is “bankrupt”. It’s true that Social Security faces insolvency in a little more than a decade unless tax increases or cuts are used to address its shortfall. But even if nothing is done, the popular program would still be able to pay 80% of benefits in 2035 and 74% in 2096. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Kathleen Romig and Luis Nunez alleviate fears tha Social Security will be bankrupt tomorrow and offer ways for policy makers to shore up the program. 

Social Security will require an increasing share of our nation’s resources as the population ages, and polls show a widespread willingness to pay more to strengthen the program. Social Security’s tax base has eroded since the last time policymakers addressed solvency in 1983, largely due to increased earnings inequality and the rising cost of non-taxed fringe benefits, such as health insurance. Policymakers could also consider other sources of tax revenue, particularly from the wealthiest people in the U.S., for whom earnings are only a small portion of income. Social Security is worth strengthening for future generations. 

“Thoughts and prayers” or action? 
The latest massacre of children attending school – this week it happened in Nashville – brought the usual reactions from public officials. Rep. Steve Scalise, echoing many others, complained that calls for responsible gun reforms were “politicizing” the tragedy and offered his “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. But this response strategy combined with the frequency in which mass shootings occur in the U.S. – so far there have been more mass shootings in 2023 than days on the calendar- means the country is constantly in a state of mourning and incapable of acting. Perhaps this is by design. An Advocate editorial urges leaders to do something. 

But (Randi) Weingarten (of the American Federation of Teachers) is right that the country went astray when it somehow deemed it a Second Amendment “right” for a deranged person to be more heavily armed than the police. That kind of ahistorical thinking led Congress to refuse to renew a somewhat effective assault-weapons ban in 2004, despite considerable support among law enforcement officers to keep it. We supported this sensible restriction then, and now. Since then, not only schoolchildren but concertgoers in Las Vegas have been among those slaughtered with weapons designed to inflict mass casualties. Amid the killings of 9-year-olds, surely Congress and the state legislatures, where much of this policy must be worked out, can do better. 

Unfortunately, there’s little appetite from Congress to enact responsible gun reforms and GOP state lawmakers across the country, including in Louisiana, are going in the opposite direction and expanding gun laws.

Cassidy’s plan to overturn student debt relief plan
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases that aim to strike down President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan, and legal experts say there’s a good chance at least one of them is successful. But Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy doesn’t want to wait for the country’s highest court to rule on the issue and is leading his own effort to strike down the debt relief plan. BRProud’s Shannon Heckt reports that Rep. Troy Carter of New Orleans is pushing back:

Congressman Troy Carter stated the country forgives debts for agencies and countries all the time so he wants to know why the same can’t be done for working Americans. “Instead of paying that money back, they get the opportunity to go buy a home, improve their home, invest in their family, invest in their children’s education, and start a business,” Rep. Carter said. “You can not possibly capture all of the residual returns when we invest in people who in turn invest in our country.” … “Why is it better to invest in somebody else and forgive their debt but ignore the working men and women, who by the way are not republican or democrat or black or white they’re Americans?” Carter asked.

What about inactive wells?
State legislators last year passed a law that positions Louisiana to receive $200 million from the new federal infrastructure law to clean up the approximately 4,500 abandoned “orphan” oil and gas wells on state lands. Last week, state officials announced they had plugged 100 orphaned oil and gas wells in just two months. While this effort and future efforts to cap the wells are commendable, it doesn’t tell the entire story that these neglected oil and gas platforms pose to the state’s environment. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports: 

A more sobering figure is the total number of inactive oil and gas wells in Louisiana: 21,357. Nearly half of those have been inactive for over five years. DNR regulations allow wells to remain inactive for up to five years before they must be plugged. However, owners who don’t want to plug a well can classify it as having a “future utility” for producing oil or gas as long as they pay a $250 annual fee. A well can maintain that status virtually indefinitely. Some inactive wells can be just as environmentally hazardous as orphaned wells, specifically those with methane leaks that are only visible through infrared imaging systems, though Courreges said they are still subject to state inspections that can enforce repairs and cleanup.

Number of the Day
18% – Percentage increase in the amount of electricity Louisiana generated from solar power in 2022. Louisiana is one of only 10 states that does not currently generate any electricity from wind power. (Climate Central via The Louisiana Illuminator