As the House took up Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare and Medicaid yesterday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the GOP Conference chair, called the programs, along with Social Security, “cruel ponzi schemes” that will bankrupt the nation.
Hensarling admitted that the three programs had been “of great comfort and assistance to my grandparents and parents,” but he went on to claim that that they were now morphing into the greatest drivers of the national debt:
REP. HENSARLING: Let’s remember again the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents but they’re morphing into cruel ponzi schemes for my 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-olds. Unfortunately, the President ignores the reality, he doesn’t really give the facts to the American people and they will go bankrupt where we will save and secure these programs for future generations.
While he now calls for “saving and securing the programs for future generations,” Hensarling has previously shown little interest in effective entitlement reform or deficit reduction. Last December, Hensarling decried the health care reform law’s reforms to make Medicare more efficient. And in the last few weeks, Hensarling has declined to say whether he would play “chicken” on the debt ceiling and even argued that corporate tax rates should be lowered.
Hensarling is not the first conservative to call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called the program “a Ponzi scheme that Bernie Madoff would be proud of.” Former House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey called Social Security a “pay-as-you-go Ponzi scheme“; a month later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) also compared the program to a Ponzi scheme. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) campaigned by making the same comparison in his television commercials.
As Charles Ponzi’s own biographer, Michael Zulkoff, has noted, these programs are not Ponzi schemes because “no one is being misled,” and they are not automatically doomed to fail. Indeed, they’re the polar moral opposite: social insurance policies created to benefit retirees, the disabled and survivors of deceased workers, not a single individual.