Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chuck Blahous on President Obama’s SOTU Social Security language

Chuck Blahous, former Bush White House Social Security point man and current Public Trustee of the Social Security and Medicare programs, comments on what was behind President Obama's opaque language on Social Security reform in the State of the Union address. Contained in it is a good taxonomy of the different factions of the Social Security reform debate:

  • Free-lunch conservatives: Free-lunch conservatives also don't want to raise taxes, but unlike fiscal conservatives they are unwilling to embrace the benefit changes required to hold down cost growth. They tend to focus on personal accounts exclusive of other solvency measures. (Personal accounts change the method of funding benefits but not necessarily the total amount of taxpayer dollars committed.) Some in this camp have even argued for making current benefit promises more generous.
  • Centrists: This group is motivated primarily by closing the gap between scheduled benefits and projected revenues, and is open to changes on both sides.
  • The realistic left: This group is unwilling to constrain cost growth enough to avoid a significant tax increase. Basically, they acknowledge the fiscal problem but would prefer to raise taxes to fix most (and in some cases nearly all) of it.
  • The anti-empirical left: This group implicitly advocates that Social Security continue to promise trillions more in future benefits than it can finance, often even to the point of denying that the program's financing shortfall even exists. Some in this group have (wrongly) alleged that projections of a shortfall were predicated on overly conservative assumptions. More recently some have said (equally wrongly) that Social Security was being "targeted" to solve a deficit problem to which it does not contribute. (For refutations of these myths, see here and here).

Check it out at e21.

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