Monday, May 25, 2009

Samuelson: Insolvency? Bring it on.

Newsweek's Robert Samuelson writes that if Congress only addresses entitlements in a crisis, the sooner the crisis comes the better:

Like General Motors and Chrysler, we continue self-defeating habits because we can—temporarily. These are not easy issues. But procrastination is a bad policy. The longer changes are postponed, the more wrenching they will be. The hurt for retirees and taxpayers alike will only grow with time. Social Security last faced a forcing event in 1983, when a dwindling trust fund prodded Congress to make changes. The counterintuitive lesson: a "crisis" is just what we need.

A couple thoughts. First, I was recently at a dinner with a retired very senior Member of Congress, who – like Samuelson – predicted that it would take a crisis to spur Congress to action. Congress, he said, is like a high schooler waiting until the night before the exam to study. My question – and for better or worse I voiced it – is whether we have a right to expect our elected representatives to approach issues of national importance with greater seriousness than a teenager devotes to Friday's math quiz.

Second, Samuelson's column brought back thoughts of President Bush's reform efforts in 2005, where he spent a great deal of time talking about the problem of Social Security solvency before he began to discuss reforms. A constant cry from the left (and from much of the press) was that Bush was "crisis mongering," claiming a crisis where none existed. Let's leave aside that Bush rarely if every called Social Security a crisis, while President Clinton regularly did so – and more recently, so has then-Senator Obama. My question was, are we supposed to wait until it's a crisis to act? Because at that point it would be, well, a crisis? Shouldn't we act before a crisis comes, and wasn't that exactly what President Bush was advocating?

All rhetorical questions, obviously, but perhaps still worth asking.

1 comment:

Bruce Webb said...

"bankrupt" "flat broke" " filing cabinet"

All illocutions used by Bush in regards to Social Security.

After the Iraq war began the Administration claimed they had never in fact called Iraq "an imminent threat". And lo and behold except for a slip by Cheney they rarely if ever did.

That Bush didn't use the word 'crisis' is an indictment and not a defense. He and his clearly wanted to maintain plausible deniability.