The Right’s Favorite Lie About Social Security
One of the most insidious falsehoods that rightists like to perpetrate about the deficit they’re suddenly so keen on reducing—after having overseen an 80% rise in military spending and the largest unfinanced entitlement expansion ever during the Bush administration— is that Social Security is bankrupting the nation.
We saw this last week in the NY Times, with Ross Douthat writing, “everybody knows the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security…”
Then today, here’s the WSJ‘s Gerald F. Seib claiming, “Any serious talk of attacking the long-range federal budget deficit has to acknowledge the need to control the coming explosion in the cost of [Social Security and Medicare].”
But as Mark Weisbrot’s excellent outfit, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, points out—and as anyone who’s ever looked at their paystub ought to know—”Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It is financed by a separate designated tax.”
Seib continues with the old rhetorical trick of leaving out the most significant fact if it contradicts your argument, citing the CBO to state that “spending on…Social Security…is to rise by 70%…over the next 10 years.”
Yet, as CEPR writes, “The most recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that [the Social Security] tax will be sufficient to fully fund benefits through the year 2039 with no changes whatsoever.”
So, OK, Gerald, granted—Social Security spending is headed straight up for a decade. But that’s not the cogent fact. What matters is that it’s fully paid for already, for 95% of the next TWO decades AFTER your time frame.
The reason Republicans are doing this is to rationalize privatization, benefit cuts, raising the retirement age, and any other ways they can come up with to slash the most successful, most imitated anti-poverty measure in history. President Obama’s task force to “reform” the program is co-chaired by a Republican who spent his entire career in the Senate trying to privatize and cut benefits.
We’ve already largely replaced company pensions with 401(k)’s, which means that most people’s retirement savings have flatlined over the last 10 years. What if you were retiring in March, 2009 with a Social Security fund in the stock market? Your nest egg would have been about 60% what it could have been just seven months earlier, and less than half its value three years previous.
I have no problem raising the retirement age for people under 40; their life expectancy is more than a decade longer than it was for people at Social Security’s beginning.
But why isn’t there any discussion of raising the limit of income subject to Social Security tax way, way above the current $106,800?
And why doesn’t the Republicans’ discussions of deficit reduction include the bloated, out-of-control Pentagon, which is still buying equipment to fight a land war in Europe and stuck in a counterinsurgency it’s not prepared for and keeps failing at?
And why did every Republican in the House vote against health care reform, when, as CEPR shows here, “If the United States had the same per person health care costs as any of the countries which enjoy longer life expectancies than the United States, then it would be facing long-term budget surpluses“?
There’s no other explanation: Because the GOP would rather enrich the military contractors and pharmaceutical companies that pay its bills.
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