Depending on the day, GOP presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (TX) will claim — in words or in print — that Social Security is unconstitutional, a monstrous lie, or a Ponzi scheme. Or perhaps he’ll stuff a popover in his mouth to avoid saying what he thinks of Social Security. Or he may simply make the false claim that he’s never said Social Security is unconstitutional. Now, however, Perry is taking an entirely different approach — claiming that Social Security is unconstitutional and that it’s still “going to be there” after a Perry Administration.
Yesterday on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Perry was asked to pin down exactly what he thought of Social Security and what he would do to reform it. His answer is hardly a tribute to coherence:
PERRY: What we talked about in the book was that this was one of many places where the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., or Congress or the president of the United States went well outside of what our Founding Fathers — but listen, Social Security is in place, that program is going to be there, it’s just got to be transformed, and that’s what we’re talking about doing.
Perry is trying to have it both ways by declaring the program both unconstitutional and worth preserving in the same breath. But in trying to bury his unpopular Social Security position, Perry still offered two Social Security reform ideas that are quite damaging to future beneficiaries. First, he suggests “staggering the age upward for people to become eligible” for benefits. Raising the age is very regressive for low-income workers because they do not live as long as high income workers. From 1997 to 2006, low-income men registered only about one-fifth the gain in life expectancy at age 65 compared to higher-income men over the same period. The workers who need the benefits they earned the most would be less likely to see them if the age is raised, a reason the idea is very unpopular with the public.
Perry’s second thought is to give young people a “private option” of private accounts rather than guaranteed benefits. Three years after the 2008 financial meltdown, the idea is still foolish. Millions of Americans lost enormous chunks of their retirement savings in that crisis. For many of them, Social Security was the only source of retirement funds they had left. The sheer volatility of market behavior “illustrates the real potential for decades-long declines that could erode the value of a private retirement account invested in stocks.” Despite being the big plan for nearly every GOP presidential candidate, a plurality of Americans still dislike privatizing Social Security.
Perry may be endeavoring to shed his wildly unpopular plans to ditch Social Security, his ideas for “reform” fair no better. Given his extreme views on Social Security, it appears that stuffing a popover in his mouth is the best answer he’s given so far.