Posted on 02 February 2012
By Mark Miller
The remaining major Republican presidential contenders managed to escape their debate prior to this week’s Florida primary without being asked to answer a single question about Social Security. That’s remarkable, considering the state’s aging population and the outlandish statements the candidates have made about the program.
But they aren’t the only ones getting a pass on the subject. President Obama mentioned Social Security briefly during his State of the Union address last week, but his comments raised more questions than they answered.
“This nation is great because we get each other’s backs,” the President said, invoking populist themes of fairness, an even playing field and an activist role for government in restoring economic security.
No government program helps us get each other’s backs more than Social Security. The program embodies the idea of inter-generational compact – the payroll tax contributions we make fund an insurance backstop for one another against the loss of income due to old age, disability or death of a wage-earning family member.
The President said last week that he wants to “strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.” But in the same breath, he signaled that he’s prepared to make benefit cuts in exchange for tax reforms that reduce the deficit. This despite the fact that Social Security has no direct impact on the deficit. By law, Social Security can’t borrow a dime; in fact, it currently is a huge lender to the federal government as its surplus is invested in Treasury notes.
My Reuters Money column earlier this week argues that the President should stop tying Social Security to the deficit, and instead start explaining that Social Security is an affordable, essential program. He also should go much further, mounting an aggressive challenge to expand Social Security.
I also quoted, briefly, a remarkable speech Mr. Obama gave in 2005 at the National Press Club in defense of Social Security during the Bush Administration’s effort to privatize the program. In short, I’d be fairly happy if the President simply went back to giving that speech.
Space didn’t permit a lengthier excerpt in the column, but here’s a link to the full transcript, along with video.