Social Security: A Target without a Cause

Article excerpt

Conservative Republicans want to cut Social Security, even though it's not a major contributor to US debt. A better solution to future Social Security shortfalls is a thriving economy.

Before President Obama's State of the Union message Jan. 25, Social Security supporters were "really scared," as one Washington pundit put it. They worried that Mr. Obama would suggest cutting Social Security benefits as a way to trim the massive federal deficit. One liberal analyst, Robert Naiman, even called for citizens to occupy the offices and dog public events of members of Congress who refused to protect the program.

It turned out that Mr. Naiman's "jihad," as he called it, wasn't needed. The president's Social Security proposal is relatively mild and vague. He called for strengthening Social Security for future generations.

But Social Security remains a target of some conservative Republicans. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, states that Social Security is "going broke"; that it faces a $5.4 trillion deficit over the next 75 years, an amount equal to more than one-third of the annual size of the US economy. He maintains that if nothing is done, beneficiaries will face "a painful 22 percent across-the-board benefit cut" in 2037 when the Social Security trust fund is exhausted.

His message: Cut Social Security before cuts are forced on it. Partially privatize it, Mr. Ryan has further suggested. In other words, Social Security is a good place to cut even if it is not the cause of huge projected federal budget deficits.

Liberals offer a different view. Social Security benefits are modest, notes Kathy Ruffing, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. Retired workers, disabled workers, and aged widows receive an average of only about $14,000 a year. More than 95 percent of recipients get less than $2,000 a month. …