Earlier today, Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller was a guest on KWHL’s Bob and Mark show. ThinkProgress called in to ask him to clarify his previous suggestions that Social Security is unconstitutional. In his initial response, Miller repeated an earlier, economically impossible proposal for a state takeover of Social Security:
[Social Security] is a role that, if government is to do, it’s something that’s best reserved to the states. It’s kinda, it is a paradox, you’re exactly right, and so how to we deal with that as a nation? You know, when I look at the Constitution, and I look at what it provides for, certain powers are listed. The Tenth Amendment says that the powers aren’t listed [sic], that those powers are reserved then to the states. So it is a quandary.
In response to a follow up question from ThinkProgress, Miller clarified that he does think that Social Security is unconstitutional, but that it should continue to pay benefits to some Americans anyway:
MILLER: When you start to receive some sort of commitment from government in exchange for a payment that you’ve made, there are reciprocal responsibilities; there is an expectation of payment on the part of the person that’s paid into it. And it’s gotten us into this quandary, where government is into something that it shouldn’t have gotten into. Now we’ve got a whole generation of people that are dependent on it, plus we have others that are getting ready to enter into the Social Security payment system, and they are, they simply don’t have time to transition out of it . […]
QUESTION: What about for me? I’m 32 years old. Is Social Security constitutional for me?
MILLER: Social Security should be transitioned into a program, there’s no question about it, that will allow either the states, or the private entities — whatever the dialogue, I think, results in — to provide payments to you. It is ultimately the government’s responsibility to follow the mandates of the Constitution.
It’s difficult to count the errors in Miller’s statement. For starters, if Social Security is unconstitutional, than it would be unconstitutional to continue to pay benefits to current beneficiaries. There is certainly nothing in the Constitution which requires the kind of generational warfare Miller embraces, and the idea that the Constitution applies differently to older Americans than it does to younger Americans is utterly incoherent.
More importantly, his suggestion that Social Security violates the “mandates of the Constitution” is flat out wrong. Had Miller actually bothered to read the Constitution, he would know that Congress has the power to “to lay and collect taxes” and to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States.” That’s exactly what Social Security does.
Finally, his two alternatives to Social Security would both be a disaster. Miller’s proposal to turn Social Security over to state governments is economically impossible unless America forbids its citizens from retiring in a different state than the one that they paid taxes in while working. Likewise, privatization would impose significant new risks on seniors, while creating new administrative costs and forcing benefit reductions. Yet despite being a riskier, less beneficial program for seniors, it also will cost more money than the present system.
Whatever Miller may think, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires America to have an inferior retirement system.
It’s also worth noting that the Supreme Court has never taken Miller’s view of Social Security seriously. The justices upheld Social Security in a pair of 1937 decisions shortly after it became law.