Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum—one of the more thoughtful liberals writing on Social Security—points out that, when it comes to reform, time is on the liberals’ side:
So imagine it’s 2033. The head of Social Security calls a press conference and announces that in July the trust fund will be depleted and benefits will be immediately cut. What happens next? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? With tens of millions of seniors facing a whopping cut in their monthly checks, Congress will go into crisis mode and restore benefits. Period. There will be no cuts at all.
Now, I’m not sure I agree there would be no cuts in such a situation. I could easily see means-tests for high income beneficiaries and reductions in COLAs.
But I take Drum’s point: The longer we wait to fix Social Security, the number of beneficiaries rises and the relative number of taxpayers falls. You can figure out how that affects the composition of reform.
Here’s what I wonder about though. Drum poses a puzzle:
So why are liberals generally willing to cut a deal, even though they could just wait it out and not give up anything? And why are conservatives dead set against it, even though the lack of a deal will eventually spur tax hikes much larger than what they could agree to today? It’s sort of a mystery, isn’t it?
Which liberals exactly is Drum talking about? Nancy Pelosi who, when asked when Democrats would offer their own reform plan, answered, “Never. Is never soon enough for you?” Alternately, check out the reform plans that have been scored by SSA’s chief actuary. The vast majority of them are from Republicans, not Democrats.
Or look at who has put the most effort into downplaying the size of the Social Security shortfall? Or who has cast doubt on CBO and SSA’s projections for the program, such that many liberals think Social Security’s insolvency is the function of pessimistic economic assumptions? All of this serves merely to delay reform until a time when the demographics, and thus the politics, are more favorable to the Left.
Drum’s take on the politics of Social Security is right. And, judging by their behavior, most on the Left know it.