Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker: Let's Be Honest About Social Security
POLLS CAN provide important guidance for politicians, but there are times when it is foolish and dangerous to rely on a temporarily misinformed public for a political compass. The current debate over Social Security provides one of the most compelling examples in modern history of the pitfalls of poll-driven political strategy.
On Thursday two leading Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, publicly took their party to task for their ''just say no" approach to President Bush's proposed privatization and benefit cuts. ''To say there is no problem simply puts Democrats out of the conversation for the great majority of the country that want political leaders to secure this very important government retirement program," they warned. ''Voters are looking for reform, change, and new ideas, but Democrats seem stuck in concrete."
Stuck, indeed. The more appropriate metaphor would be that they are holding their ground and refusing to surrender to a president who is once again manufacturing a ''crisis" for a political purpose. And why should they do otherwise, when this strategy is clearly working?
Let's start with the facts. According to the numbers President Bush is using, Social Security can pay all promised benefits for the next 37 years without any changes at all. Even if nothing were done by 2043, the program would still pay a higher real (adjusted for inflation) benefit than what people receive today.
And even looking into the science-fiction future of the Social Security Trustees' 75-year planning period, the projected shortfall is less than what we fixed in each one of the decades of the '50s, '60s, and '80s. In other words, according to the president's own numbers, Social Security is financially stronger today than it has been throughout most of its history. If we use the projections of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, it's even better: Social Security is rock-solid for nearly half a century....
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