As a Matter of Fact
Cheez, I go to all this trouble not to call the president of the United States a liar – perhaps misinformed, did not seem to know about, no one has told him, etc. – and then he just comes flat out with a whopper.
Drolly enough, he prefaced his latest with the unlikely statement, "As a matter of fact ..." before he proceeded to do battle against truth: "... by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt."
Let's try this again, slowly, for those who, like the president, seem to be having difficulty with reality. Social Security will not be bankrupt, will not be flat bust in 2042 or 2052 or even, as the president has also claimed, by 2018. According to the deliberately alarmist projections of the fund's trustees, it will have exhausted the trust fund in 2042. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be able to rely on the trust fund until 2052 and after that will still be able to pay 81 percent of scheduled benefits.
And that's if no changes are made to the current system.
I am sorry to disillusion any young people, who according to polls do not think Social Security will be there for them, but for once the pessimists are wrong: It will be. Even adjusted for inflation, that 81 percent of benefits will be considerably more than Social Security recipients get today. Making those benefits 100 percent secure can be accomplished quite easily by ending the regressive cut-off on Social Security payroll taxes, which are not now applied to income over $80,000.
In other words, if you make $80K or less a year, you are paying full fare on every nickel you earn – but people making more, no matter how much more, are not taxed beyond the first $80K.
Now, let's step back and look at a couple of relevant points. Investing part of Social Security in the stock market is not necessarily a terrible idea. If you want to try putting some of that money into the stock market, why not do it under one big account, the Social Security investment portfolio? Why have every citizen set up a separate account? The only people who benefit from that are people who sell stock and manage portfolios. They stand to make billions of dollars in fees off this scheme, which is the reason it is being pushed. Separate accounts make no sense and have not worked in other countries where they have been tried.
Second, although this is tangential to the current debate, perhaps we should rethink how we allocate resources more broadly. Doesn't it make sense to invest more money in children than in older people? They are, after all, our future. This is not an argument for privatizing Social Security, but it is worth thinking about.
The memo by Peter Wehner, an aide to Karl Rove, makes perfectly clear that the administration is prepared to whip up a phony crisis: The public must be convinced that the current system "is heading for an iceberg."
There's no reason to believe it is heading for an iceberg, and many good reasons to believe it is not. One of those very good reasons is the Bush administration's record on veracity. The last time the Bushies whipped up a great crisis was over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Even the administration has finally quit pretending they are still looking for the nonexistent WMDs: The inspectors were recalled before Christmas. No one in the administration was fired over the huge lie about WMDs – Bush just gave George Tenet, the man theoretically responsible, the Medal of Freedom. Colin Powell, the only Cabinet member who opposed the folly of Iraq, was asked to resign.
These are the same people who passed a huge tax cut for the rich on the grounds that we had a huge surplus – as in the case of the WMDs, there was no such thing. And those are just the biggest lies with the most disastrous consequences.
More minor misinformation gushes forth every day.
And now comes yet another low. According to Newsweek magazine, the administration is planning the ultimate idiocy. Not enough that it has engaged in torture, it is now considering setting up as terrorists themselves. It is impossible to tell how seriously the administration is taking this proposal, but it is being discussed. It's called "the Salvador option" – backing death squads to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers. Newsweek quotes one military source: "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. ... From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse ...