Robert Pozen has a piece in the Washington Post making the argument that progressives could embrace a vision of Social Security reform that reduces outlays while enhancing the program’s progressive distributive impact. His proposal is similar in many ways to what CAP put ont he table late last year.
I think it’s unfortunate, though, that Pozen didn’t really engage with the political arguments around this subject. Progressive opponents of touching Social Security don’t actually think we should just do nothing indefinitely and then have benefits fall off a cliff when the trust fund runs out in a couple of decades. Opponents of touching Social Security don’t believe that restoring projected actuarial balance will in fact settle the issue, they think it will merely generate more headroom for income tax cuts. If that’s true, then there’s nothing to be gained by tinkering with Social Security in the current congress.
At any rate, if you look at what Pozen has to say on the merits the main upshot is that increasing the retirement age is a highly regressive move. And yet, that seems to be the move that has the most political support in the Beltway, presumably because politicians don’t care about the interests of poor people. To me the real moral of the story isn’t that progressives should be for or against reforming Social Security, it’s that progressives should oppose raising the retirement age and insist that whatever cuts in spending on the elderly are enacted not take this form.