Columnist Debra Saunders roles out the Social Security Bogeyman

In all the columns I have read by Debra Saunders, I cannot recall a single one that I agreed with, today’s column in the Strib, is predictable both with the topic discussed and my disappointment with it.

The funny thing is, I have already covered this issue in a previous blog, using the same data she mentions, it really outlines the costs in various entitlement programs.

Comptroller General David Walker estimates that Washington has promised $53 trillion in Social Security and Medicare benefits without funding them. In real dollars, that means every American — this means you — owns a $175,000 share of the federal debt. It’s as if you have a second mortgage — for a home you don’t own.

As I channel Dean Baker, the big question is, over what time period is that $53 trillion?  The next question is, what do you mean without funding them, I am getting paid tomorrow, and the payroll taxes that I and my employer pay is contributing to that $53 trillion in obligations.

My answers to these two question, probably 75 years is the time frame, well that makes $175,000 over 75 years to be only $2,333 per year if I contribute each of my next 75.  Lets say I retire at 67, then I have 30 more years of contribution so that $175,000 over 30 years or $5,833 per year.  Looking at my W-2, I see that my half of the contributions plus my employer’s half to Social Security and Medicare is more than $5,833 in 2007.  So I think I am going to hold up my part of the bargain as I don’t expect to make less money.

How indeed? Washington continues to authorize retirement and medical benefits without putting aside the money to pay for them. Editorials and think tanks sound the alert. Yet you hear little public complaint about the situation. Even in a presidential election year, voters are not demanding that White House hopefuls promise to balance the books.

It must be nice to get paid to write so many lies!  Once again, the Social Security Administration is running a surplus, that money is being put aside, in fact the OASDI Trust Fund has over $1.8 trillion in assets, that is a pretty nice rainy day fund.  Not only is that a nice nest egg, but we are still adding to it.   Now yes, Medicaid and Medicare are a problem, but in typical fashion, Social Security gets lumped together.

Now Saunders ropes in Alice Rivlin of Brookings Institute into this,

Alice Rivlin of the left-leaning Brookings Institution is the fourth member of the Concord Coalition’s “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour.” Asked what presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain propose to do about the pending crisis, Rivlin answered that essentially “they’re ignoring it almost completely.”

But, to reinforce my point on adding Social Security in to the scare, this is what I found on “Restoring Fiscal Sanity

The major theme of the book is, how can federal programs be reformed so that the whole system of health care spending becomes more efficient? So we look at the different programs. The big one is Medicare. And the next biggest is Medicaid, a program for low-income people and for many, many seniors.

Do you hear that, there is no mention of Social Security.  The two biggest issues are Medicare and Medicaid, bait and switch!

In fact Saunders goes back to focus solely on Social Security in this paragraph.

In the 1980s, then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill pronounced Social Security as the “third rail” of American politics — as any politician who touched the dicey issue risked death.

Yet, Rivlin talks about this unsustainable cost,

So the cost of providing the same benefits under Medicare and Medicaid is rising dramatically. If we go on doing what we’re doing, we will be using about 18 percent of everything we produce just to pay for those programs in about thirty-five years.

Translation, 18% of GDP will go to pay Medicare and Medicaid in 2042 (web page posted 2007), about the time the Social Security Trust Funds is empty, but still able to pay some benefits.

So if Saunders wants to have an honest discussion about entitlement programs and their cost to the government, let it begin by dropping Social Security from the discussion.  That is not where the immediate problem lies.   Saunders would be a much more honest person if she wanted to talk about the runaway health costs in the public and private sector.

-Josh

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