Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U.S. News: “Social Security Defenders Circling the Wagons”

U.S. News and World Report's Phillip Moeller reports on efforts from liberal groups to protect Social Security benefits against cuts as President Obama's fiscal commission discusses ways to reduce the deficit and balance long-term entitlement finances:

Defenders of Social Security are taking steps to alert or, depending on one's point of view, alarm the public about possible changes to the program. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, appointed earlier this year by President Obama, is expected to address Social Security and other major sources of federal red ink in recommendations late this year. Enormous budget deficits have raised both sincere and politicized concerns that spending cutbacks are unavoidable, and that no programs should be considered off the table when considering changes.

Specifically, Moeller cites a poll commissioned by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which purports to find that Americans would rather fix Social Security by raising taxes than by cutting benefits.

But I'm not sure this poll really tells the whole story, as changes to Social Security are framed almost entirely in terms of reducing today's deficit – which Social Security reform wouldn't do in any case, and which the fiscal commission isn't trying to make it do – rather than balancing the system for the long term. For instance, the poll asks:

"Some people have proposed significant changes to Social Security, including cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, and increasing taxes in order to help reduce the national deficit. Do you think that policy makers in Washington should significantly change Social Security to reduce the national deficit or should they leave Social Security alone and look at other ways of reducing the deficit?"

One of the current arguments from the left is that Social Security isn't contributing to the current deficit (which is true) and therefore we shouldn't cut Social Security. If they said, 'We shouldn't cut Social Security today' I'd be on board, but in the future Social Security will be a big contributor to the deficit and so we should consider benefit levels in that context.

In other words, the National Committee's poll question is different from something like "Social Security faces a long-term financing shortfall. Would you rather address this shortfall by increasing taxes or reducing benefits?" I have no idea how Americans would answer that question, but it's closer to the truth about the choices Americans face.


1 comment:

Bruce Webb said...

But Andrew the opponents of traditional Social Security are the ones who are MAKING it about deficits. Which is why the Commission is popularly known as the "Deficits" Commission and is tasked with bringing those deficits as a share of GDP down to 3% by 2015. To which goal NONE of the current proposals to change Social Security would contribute.

If those who were pushing this Commission from the beginning and parallel efforts like Conrad-Gregg and Cooper-Wolff had been billing them as the "Sustainable Solvency" Commissions then your argument would make sense, instead they are constantly referring to Obama deficits and the ten year budget window.

Essentially you are admitting that the whole exercise is one of bait and switch. If it is NOT about deficits maybe people should stop selling it as such.