Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appeared on MSNBC last night, where he strongly rejected the idea that Social Security cuts should be on the table during current budget talks. “I’ve said clearly and as many times as I can, leave Social Security alone. Social Security has not added a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has. And for the next 30 years, it won’t do that,” Reid said. “Two decades from now, I am willing to take a look at it. I am not willing to take a look at it now.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, have stated their intention to suggest “bold reforms” for Social Security in their 2012 budget, which House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) plans to release during the first week of April. At Politico’s “Playbook Breakfast” today, which Wonk Room attended, Ryan was asked about Reid’s position. Ryan said that Reid’s stance “just boggles my mind,” before later admitting that Social Security is “not a driver of our debt”:
I’m boggled. That just boggles my mind…I would argue, even though, it’s not really a driver of our debt, it’s not a significant part of our debt problems, it would build great confidence, fixing Social Security on a bipartisan basis, because it would tell not only the credit markets that Americans are getting their act together, it would buy us more time and space with them, it would show that our government’s not broken.
So, in Ryan’s mind, one of the most popular and vital social programs in the country’s history needs to be tweaked not because it’s driving the debt, but because it would reassure the markets. But remember, if nothing is done to Social Security, it will still pay full benefits until the year 2037. After that, the program is projected to pay out 75 percent of benefits until 2084, which is close to full benefits once inflation is accounted for. There are certainly progressive changes that could be made to bolster Social Security and provide more support for those at the bottom end of the income chain, but Ryan’s desperate quest to take an axe to the program is entirely unwarranted.
Of course, Ryan’s ultimate goal, as explained in his Roadmap for America’s Future, is to simply privatize Social Security, even though such a move wouldn’t put Social Security onto a path to solvency, as money would have to be diverted to the costs of setting up private accounts. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said that the Republicans’ 2012 budget would contain “cost containment goals” for Social Security, but without any explanation for how to achieve them.