Friday, June 5, 2009

We know how to fix Social Security. We don’t know how to fix Medicare. So why not fix Social Security?

A story on NPR – titled "Fixing Social Security: A Solvable Problem" – raises a common but logically suspect argument: that health care, being the largest problem, is the one we should focus on:

Obama said fixing Social Security is actually one of his smaller challenges. "There are some problems that are really hard to solve," he said. "This is one we actually can solve."

Here's the question: why does this justify ignoring Social Security in favor of health care reform? After all, as the administration's own health care plans show, we really don't know how to cut health care costs without impacting quality, much as we'd like to do so. Enacting reforms when we don't fully understand the problem obviously carries some risks.

Social Security reform, as Obama stated, is far more straightforward; all that's really needed is political leadership. It would seem that's something the President could provide in order to get this very large problem out of the way.

3 comments:

James said...

Social Security reform, as Obama stated, is far more straightforward; all that's really needed is political leadership. It would seem that's something the President could provide in order to get this very large problem out of the way.

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Or, another way of looking at it, if you can't find a solution to SS, then a Medicare fix would seem to be even more elusive. So, lead the way with the easier problem - showing consensus is possible - and use the lessons and momentum from that to tackle Medicare.

paul-l said...

I'm not sure what "political leadership" means. What should Obama do? and why will this action "fix the problem"?

It seems that George Bush thought he was providing "political leadership", and that didn't lead to anything.

Bruce Webb said...

Why not fix Social Security now? Well Dean Baker answered that question 10 years ago.

"We have a chance, said President Clinton, to “fix the roof while the sun is still shining.” He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced. The audience was a regional conference on Social Security, in Kansas City, Missouri, that the White House had helped bring together.

The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it’s not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time the rain approaches.

Now add this: most of the people who say they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.

This is the situation facing Social Security, and it is well known to those who have looked at the numbers."

Almost all existing proposals either ask current workers and future retirees to sacrifice their own material interest or to tap upper middle class incomes in ways that reduce the possibility of overall reform of the tax system all to the ultimate benefits of the holders of capital (under the guise of 'sustainable solvency').

Social Security 'reform' when reduced to dollars and numbers is not in the interest of clear majorities of the American people. Moreover all too many of the people who come hammer in hand draw their philosophical position and economic theory from a man who maintained that Social Security was fundamentally immoral.

When President Bush categorically took any straight payroll fix proposal off the table he set up a dishonest unbalanced debate. There is really no point in playing ball with people who insist that you be shackled and hand-cuffed right at the start of the game. Why not fix Social Security? Because we don't trust your side to play fair and fear you are taking all your plays out of the PGP playbook.

For example you personally have suggested that we just agree to take Diamond-Orzsag as the 'left' plan and the President's model 2 as the 'right' plan and come to some meeting of the minds. Well that is not compromise, that is a call for conditional surrender where all that is left to discuss is the terms. Sorry I don't propose to pull a Trojan Horse thorough the gates in a world where 'bi-partisan' means 'somewhere between the Blue Dogs and Congressional Republicans'. And really that is all Cooper-Wolf and Conrad-Gregg boil down to.

Homie don't play that game.