Many progressive advocates have said that Social Security is under a greater threat now than it was in 2005 with President Bush’s privatization scheme. Why? Because they have to now fend off attacks from both parties. It’s completely normal for the likes of Mitch Daniels to claim that young people will live to be more than 100 because we will be able to “replace body parts like we do tires,” and so we must raise the retirement age. That kind of innumeracy and belief in science fiction fantasy has always been with us, and will continue to be.
The difference is that in 2005, you saw a united front. Nancy Pelosi was asked when she would put together her own competing proposal on Social Security privatization, and she replied, “Never. Is never good enough for you?” These days, you get this from the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee:
The president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, on which I served, made a significant step forward. We showed that members of both parties, when faced with the stark realities of our fiscal situation, can agree on the hard choices needed to align spending with revenues [...]
Social Security needs to be reformed to maintain its solvency, not to reduce the deficit. The commission’s plan extends Social Security’s solvency for at least 75 years and puts the program on a more sustainable path beyond that. Savings in Social Security were used only for extending the program’s solvency — not for deficit reduction. And critical provisions were added to strengthen the safety net and protect the most vulnerable seniors and the disabled. The commission’s work demonstrates that it is possible to both bolster the Social Security safety net and restore the program’s trust funds to sustainable solvency over the long run. Inaction here will hurt seniors — and that is unacceptable.
My No. 1 priority this year will be to see that Congress builds on this momentum and enacts a long-term plan. It will not be easy, and it will require shared sacrifices on both sides of the aisle.
This has become the bipartisan baseline in Congress. Mark Pryor is just another example, out there talking about putting Social Security and Medicare “on the table” for cuts to “bring our spending into balance.” That neither program has anything to do with the federal budget deficit is besides the point.
Social Security is under threat because Democrats have taken up the cause, under the rubric of “responsibility” and “getting our fiscal house in order.” It’s about the least propitious time to do that, but nevertheless.