How Much Net Safety on Social Security?

By Lambro, Donald | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

How Much Net Safety on Social Security?


Lambro, Donald, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Donald Lambro

Democratic leaders are viciously attacking President Bush's Social Security commission, accusing the bipartisan panel of wildly exaggerating the financial troubles that threaten the program's future existence.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who built his political career on making up facts and then shooting them down, joined in the all-out diatribe last week to smear the commission. He charged that it presented "a biased, misleading picture of where Social Security is now and where it is headed."

The panel's eight Republicans and eight Democrats, including former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, were "trying to scare people into thinking we have no choice but to cut benefits," Mr. Gephardt said. Its well-documented interim report was "part of a 66-year drive [by Republicans] to gut Social Security and let people fend for themselves," he said.

But Mr. Gephardt's dishonest broadside raised questions about who was really doing the exaggerating? Who was really using scare tactics?

Clearly it was Mr. Gephardt and the rest of his liberal henchmen in Congress who were trying to discredit the commission with two familiar Democratic weapons: fear and demagoguery.

"The assertion that Social Security is going bust in 2016 flies in the face of all reality," Mr. Gephardt said.

But neither the commission, nor its staff, nor the report ever said the system was "going bust" in 2016. What it said was that beginning in 2016, Social Security will start paying out more in benefits than it will be receiving in payroll taxes.

It isn't fiction. The Social Security Administration says it. The Social Security trustees say it. The last Democratic administration said it.

In one of the most dishonest exhibitions of denial, Mr. Gephardt pooh-poohed the report's contention that the system is in financial trouble. "These [Social Security's] assets have the full faith and credit of the United States government behind them, and the Social Security system is fundamentally sound for many years to come," he said.

Is that so? In a major address on Social Security on Feb. 9, 1998, President Clinton stated that "all of you know that the Social Security system is not sound for the long term." America's prosperity and every American - especially poor and low-income people - were "threatened by the looming crisis in Social Security," he said.

It is not recorded anywhere that any Democrat in Congress challenged Mr. Clinton on that singular point, least of all Mr. Gephardt.

And what assets is Mr. Gephardt talking about? The Social Security trustees, the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service all point out that the system has no real assets.

Here's how the Clinton administration explained the Social Security asset myth in its fiscal 2000 budget:

"These [trust fund] balances . …

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