Friday, June 25, 2010

Reid vs Angle on Social Security

From AEI's Enterprise Blog:

Best I can tell, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle wants to shift pretty far toward supporting personal accounts for Social Security, having talked about allowing young and middle-aged workers to "opt out" of the program, of "phasing out" Social Security and so on. I don't have a lot of problems with that, so long as a strong safety net is kept in place for lower-income retirees. Yet, as entitlement spending rises, the need to protect low earners remains; however, paying high Social Security benefits to high earners shouldn't be the program or the government's highest priority.

That said, I'm not under any illusions that my views are where the median voter is or that my views couldn't easily be distorted in an election campaign.

What's surprising is that, even given views on Social Security, which aren't exactly tailor-made for election in senior-heavy Nevada, Angle's Democratic opponent—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—is still stretching the truth in his ads attacking Angle on the issue.

The Las Vegas Review Journal
reports on a new Reid ad claiming that Angle called Social Security "welfare." Yet, as the Review Journal makes clear, in the Angle interview cited by the ad, she makes clear that it was her father who refused to take benefits because he saw them as welfare. Angle herself didn't say it.

Likewise, the Review Journal says, "Reid, in the new 30-second spot and in a previous negative ad, has been trying to scare seniors into thinking Angle would cut off their Social Security checks." But, in the interview that Reid's ad cites, Angle said that the program must "fulfill our obligations to our seniors. They paid into the system. They're counting on that." That doesn't exactly sound like she's looking to throw Granny out on the street.

Angle needs to be clearer about where she stands on Social Security: how she views the system today, where she wants it to go, and how she would get it there. The last part, in particular, is tricky for supporters of personal accounts.

Reid can attack Angle's ideas but he's never had his own fixes to defend. In fact, Reid has done little to fix Social Security other than to initially denounce spending trust fund surpluses on other projects, while for two decades voting to do precisely that. In 1990, Reid asked,

Are we as a country violating a trust by spending Social Security trust fund moneys for some purpose other than for which they were intended? The obvious answer is yes.

Reid assured us that someone doing this outside of government would be prosecuted. Yet in almost every year since then, the entire trust fund surplus has been swallowed up by deficits elsewhere in the budget—deficits that Reid effectively supported. So while Angle has some policy work to do, Reid has a deficit of honesty he needs to make up.

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