Progressives like to claim, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said, that “Social Security has contributed not a single penny to the deficit. So we can talk about entitlements as long as you eliminate Social Security.” AARP CEO Barry Rand claimed, “The fact is, Americans pay for Social Security, and it hasn’t added one dime to the deficit.”
As I explained at Real Clear Markets, this argument isn’t just wrong, it’s basically a BS line used to pretend that we don’t need to make the tough choices required to fix Social Security.
But you don’t need to take my word for it: former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in his new book “Stress Test,” recounts being asked to parrot the “not a dime” line for the Sunday talk shows. To his credit, Geitner refused:
“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute,” he says. “Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”
The problem is, this “dog whistle” also signals to everyone else that you’re not committed enough to entitlement reform to give it to people straight.
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