July 18 2011
Maybe Not This Time, But Social Security Reform Has to Be on the Table
Carrie L. Lukas
Leftist feminist groups are aghast that Social Security has been dragged into the debt-ceiling discussion. They were rightfully horrified by the president's warning that Social Security checks might not go out next month absent a deal (a transparent political ploy designed to scare seniors and manipulate Congress: There is no reason that Social Security checks can't go out regardless of what happens with the debt ceiling).
These women's groups also object to the floated idea that changes to the growth rate of future Social Security benefits could be considered as a part of deal. They want Social Security "off the table."
While certainly it's unlikely that entitlement reform will be a part of any debt-ceiling deal, ultimately Social Security reform will have to become a priority.
Maria Freese, director of government relations of the Washington-based National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, justifies her contention that policymakers should just leave Social Security alone, by claiming that "the program has a $2.6 trillion surplus that will enable every American to receive full benefits for the next 25 years."
Yet American taxpayers know that they can take little comfort from the $2.6 trillion "surplus" in the Social Security Trust Fund. Those Trust Fund bonds are really another taxpayer liability. The Social Security Administration can cash in those bonds when the programs runs a deficit (as it is this year) but policymakers still have to come up with the money. This means repaying Social Security's Trust Fund will further squeeze the rest of the budget or lead to the issuing of new debt.
Women and seniors should ignore the statements of Maria Freese and the numerous others who oppose any changes to Social Security. In reality, essentially all current proposals to reform Social Security exempt those in or near retirement, and tend to reduce benefits only for those who these liberal groups would characterize as "the rich" if we were talking about taxes. IWF's Sabrina Schaeffer also describes why the current Social Security system, even if it were sustainable, is less than ideal for women, and is based on an outdated vision of women's role in society. We can and need to do better moving forward.
In fact, one of the few bright spots in this entire debt-ceiling debate has been the president's admission that our nation's entitlement programs are drivers of our long-term debt problems, and need reform. Recognizing this simply truth is an important first step in opening up a conversation about how to better structure these programs so that they can continue without burying future generations in debt.