Monday, March 29, 2010

Rubio v Crist on Social Security reform

From the Enterprise Blog

I caught the debate between Florida Republican Senate contenders Governor Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio on "Fox News Sunday." I hadn't previously paid much attention to this race, but—as a Social Security specialist—their answers regarding how to fix this program said a lot to me about the relative virtues of the candidates and, perhaps more importantly, regarding Americans' willingness to take on tough issues.

Rubio pointed out the problems facing the Social Security program and stated that we're going to have to look at the tough choices, which include raising the retirement age for younger Americans, possibly reducing Cost of Living Adjustments, and other changes to benefits. If you don't want to raise taxes—which both Crist and Rubio say they oppose—then these are pretty much your only options.

Crist replied that he opposes either a retirement age increase or changes to annual COLAs. Instead, he would focus on attacking "waste and fraud" in the system.

As a general rule, when a politician mentions "waste, fraud, and abuse" it should be interpreted the same as if the candidate wore a sign saying "I'm not serious." That's not to say that we don't have problems with fraud, but that the real problem is simply that the government spends too much.

This is particularly so in the case of Social Security, which is one of the most efficient federal government programs. Social Security takes money from young workers, calculates a benefit for retirees based on their earnings and their years in the workforce, and cuts them a check. There's not a lot of discretion involved, which reduces chances for things to go wrong. Sure, there are problems in the disability program and I'm confident there are folks getting disability benefits who actually could work. But that's the fault of the eligibility criteria passed by Congress in the 1980s more than any problem of vetting applicants by the Social Security Administration. On this issue, at least, Crist was very unimpressive.

What did impress me, though, was the fact that Rubio—who, after all, is running for the Senate from Florida—was willing to be upfront about the hard choices awaiting us on Social Security. In part this may be due to the character of the candidate, who struck me as a principled conservative.

But even more so, this may be due to the dawning on Americans that the clock is truly ticking in terms of getting our fiscal house in order. Rubio brought up the problem of Greece's debt crisis and related it to what America may be looking at in the future. (I discussed this issue here.) It's a sure sign a country is in tough shape when candidates on national television worry about the value of their currency. Yet, while it's bad that we have to discuss these things, it's at least comforting that we're at last willing to do so.

1 comment:

James said...

Crist replied that he opposes either a retirement age increase or changes to annual COLAs. Instead, he would focus on attacking "waste and fraud" in the system.


I caught his comment in the press and my immediate reaction was that he either he was ignorant of the issue or dishonest. In any event, his attitude is part of the problem - trumpet solutions that are most likely to offend the fewest number of people (voters).