If there’s a defense to be mounted against cuts to Social Security, the lead political ally in that fight would have to be the Senate Majority Leader. The House is in Republican hands, and nobody really knows what President Obama is up to. So Harry Reid will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility. Here’s how he approached the issue yesterday with David Gregory:
DAVID GREGORY: Social Security– how does it have to change? What they put on the agenda is raising the retirement age, maybe means testing benefits. Is it time for Social Security to fundamentally change if you’re gonna deal with the debt problem?
HARRY REID: One of the things that always troubles me is when we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. Social Security is a program that works. And it’s going to be– it’s fully funded for the next forty years. Stop picking on Social Security. There’re a lotta places–
DAVID GREGORY: Senator are you really saying —
HARRY REID: –where you can go to save money.
DAVID GREGORY:– the arithmetic on Social Security works?
HARRY REID: I’m saying the arithmetic in Social Security works. I have no doubt it does.
DAVID GREGORY: It’s not in crisis?
HARRY REID: No, it’s not in crisis. This is– this is– this is something that’s perpetuated by people who don’t like government. Social Security is fine. Are there things we can do to improve Social Security? Of course.
DAVID GREGORY: Means testing. Raising the retirement age–do you agree with either of those?
HARRY REID: –I’m not going to go to with any of those backdoor methods- you know, to whack Social Security recipients. I’m not going to do that. We have a lot of things we can do with– this debt. It’s a problem. But one of the places where I’m not going to be part of picking on is Social Security.
Fantastic. There’s no reason to give any ground or accept the premise that Social Security is somehow in crisis. If it’s in crisis, then go stock up on canned food and candles, because it’s on sounder financial footing than practically anything in the US government. And Reid rightly points out that the kind of changes that Villagers like Gregory desperately seek are “backdoor methods… to whack Social Security recipients.”
Reid appears to understand that this is now a negotiation. Thanks to a President at best vague and at worst itching for a “Grand Bargain” on Social Security, we’re in a position where the system is under threat. And the only way to defend it is by giving no quarter, no rhetorical ground, and refusing to accept the frame that will eventually lead to cutbacks. Austan Goolsbee does the exact same thing on the debt limit, but does not extend that to Social Security.
Good for Harry Reid.