If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

The 'Geezers' Are Right This Time

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alan Simpson let loose at a group of Californians who charged in a brochure that he and Erskine Bowles were "using the deficit to gut our Social Security." The former Republican senator from Wyoming sent the California Association of Retired Americans a characteristically colorful response, which I quote: "What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people (the young) that we are trying to save, while the 'greedy geezers' like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap."

I can't not like Simpson, but he is wrong this time, and the activists are right. The plan named for him and former Clinton Chief of Staff Bowles bravely confronted soaring deficits with balanced spending cuts and tax hikes. Upon its release, the tax-a-phobic Grover Norquist called Simpson "old and grumpy." Simpson fired back with "old Grover Norquist and his happy band of goofy warriors, all they do is make money off of people." And I, too, have made past reference to "greedy geezers."    

But Simpson-Bowles had no business dragging Social Security into the operating room, and here's why: Social Security is an independent, self-funding program. It is not welfare. The workers and their employers pay for all of it.    

About 25 years ago, Social Security taxes were raised above that needed to support current retirees and the surplus put in a trust fund. The goal was to create a buffer to keep the program healthy as the number of retirees grew and lived longer. Left alone, Social Security can pay all promised benefits for the next 20 years, and can continue doing so with some minor adjustments, such as raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.    

Conservatives and "centrists" who call for compromise on the Social Security Trust Fund still don't get it, so let's bang the gong again: The trust fund represents real money taken out of workers' pockets, and the money it loaned the Treasury is really owed.    

Simpson-Bowles did fine calling for a curb on projected entitlement spending. That, of course, includes Medicare, the health-insurance plan for the elderly. Unlike Social Security, Medicare is not self-supporting. Medicare payroll taxes and payments by beneficiaries cover only some of it.    

The Social Security Trust Fund is a big piece of change, and by declaring the Treasury securities sitting in it "worthless pieces of paper," our right-wing politicians can throw the obligations overboard in the service of more tax cuts for the rich -- with the added bonus of killing off a program they never liked much. Often citing some scuzzy accounting methods applied to the surplus, they tell us, "Whoops, the money has been spent."    

Well, duh, all the money the Treasury borrows has been spent. That's why it borrows money. Every bond it issues to investors across the globe represents a debt. And if the Treasury hadn't been able to borrow that money from the trust fund, it would have had to borrow more from the public.    

Then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was asked in 2001 whether the trust fund investments were real or not. His response: "The crucial question: Are they ultimate claims on real resources? And the answer is yes."    

The California Association of Retired Americans was overenthusiastic but correct in its assertion that Simpson-Bowles envisioned using Social Security to balance budgets that the program is not supposed to be part of. They were perhaps unfair to imply that the intention was to gut Social Security. Some politicians might like that, but the more realistic explanation is that many simply don't know what they're doing.

COPYRIGHT 2012 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.