Andrus Wrong on History of Social Security
- 10 August 2008 by Author 0 Comments
Andrus Wrong on History of Social Security
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 08/10/08
Last week’s column by Cecil Andrus regarding John McCain and Social Security was long on subjective, unsubstantiated opinion, and extremely short on fact. While attempting to paint with a pejorative and broad brush all conservative approaches to shoring up Social Security, the former Governor betrayed a bias that was ill-informed and oblivious to the facts.
In his first paragraph, Andrus displayed an ignorance of the history of Social Security that could only have been tainted by his political bias for it resembled nothing historical. He stated, “…one thing seems to be constant: the Democratic (Presidential) candidate wants to strengthen and sustain Social Security, and the Republican candidate wants to do harm to [Social Security].”
When the political rose-colored glasses are on, such a statement might be tenable. When they’re off, we realize that for all presidential candidates, Social Security is a sacred cow, the veritable “Third Rail of American Politics” that candidates can only issue supportive platitudinous statements about. You touch it as a presidential candidate, and it can spell political doom. Addressing the future challenges of Social Security, George W. Bush in the 2004 election was harangued and harassed mercilessly for suggesting the possibility of allowing 2% of a workers’ FICA contribution to go to a personal account where they could direct the composition of the investments even though it could ultimately make Social Security more beneficial and more secure.
Also, when the political rose-colored glasses are off, we recognize that there is one party that has been most destructive to Social Security, and it’s not the one Andrus targeted. While Presidential candidates can’t seem to touch the issue for fear of political reprisal, the party in control of Congress for fifty of the past sixty years has done tremendous damage to Social Security.
It was Andrus’ party which moved social Security from an independent trust fund and put it into the general fund so that Congress could spend it. It was his party that during the Johnson administration put a tax on Social Security benefits. It’s his party that has increased that tax on Social Security two times since, with Al Gore casting the deciding vote the last time around. It is his party that has moved aggressively to expand benefits to illegal aliens who haven’t contributed a dime to the solvency of the program. It is his party that has expanded benefits 12 times since the program’s inception, which is politically popular with those new beneficiaries, but spells trouble for the continued solvency of the program. It is his party that has increased FICA withholding taxes 20 times since the program’s inception in order to attempt to pay for those expanded benefits.
Factually, Andrus’ premise rings hollow and is nothing more than political bias. Presidential candidates can do little to ameliorate the solvency issue because it’s Congress that controls the purse strings, and by a vote can contribute to future instability and insolvency by continuing to expand benefits according to their political desires. And it is Andrus’ own party that has done more to undermine the future stability and security with the program than any other.
What we do know is that the program has problems. According to the Social Security Administration, “Social Security has been changed over time to meet the needs of the American people. It will need to change again to meet future challenges… In 2017 benefits owed will be more than taxes collected, and Social Security will need to begin tapping the trust funds to pay benefits. The trust funds will be exhausted in 2041. At that time, Social Security will not be able to meet all of its benefit obligations if no changes are made.” In light of that, it’s much easier to correct course early on by making minor adjustments than to wait until the last minute to make drastic adjustments to save the program.
Andrus posited as fact that “John McCain would dismantle and destroy [Social Security].” Since he didn’t bother to quote what the Senator has actually said about the program, why don’t I. McCain’s official position is, “Everything’s on the table,” in order to address future funding issues. And frankly, shouldn’t that be the properly objective approach to solving the problem? It certainly seems more viable than simply increasing the tax to pay for the problem (as Obama suggests) and certainly more viable than what our Congress wants to do by making Social Security benefits available to 12 million illegal aliens. Sorry, Cecil, I think I’ll take McCain’s realistic and more objective approach. And to put that in perspective, I’m far from a McCain apologist. I’m the one with the bumper sticker that says “McCain ’08: Better half right than all left.”
Social Security should be an issue in the Presidential sweepstakes. But keep in mind, that in the end it’s Congress that makes the changes, regardless of what the President proposes. And I have about as much confidence in our Congress to do the right thing in this regard as is warranted by their latest dismal 8% approval rating.
Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.