Six Questions For Mitt Romney On Social Security

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential campaign continued its assault on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) views on Social Security yesterday, issuing a release titled “Six Questions for Rick Perry on Social Security.” The release focused on Perry’s positions about the program’s constitutionality and what would happen if Social Security was converted to a state-level program. Perry’s campaign immediately hit back, asking if Romney remembered that he was a Republican, not a Democrat.

While the questions Romney posed are both relevant and pertinent, his own support for Social Security privatization proves that he is, indeed, not a Democrat. Romney offered consistent support for privatization during his 2008 presidential campaign, saying of former President George W. Bush’s privatization plan, “That works.” He later wrote about it in his 2010 book, “No Apology,” and has spoken of it on the campaign trail during this race. With that in mind, ThinkProgress compiled six questions Romney needs to answer about his support for privatizing one of America’s most popular government programs:

1) Do you know how much retirees would have lost under privatization in the financial crisis?

According to a Center for American Progress study, a person who retired in October 2008 and had saved for 35 years would have lost $26,000 in a private Social Security account, and that report was done well before the American market bottomed out in March 2009. Had the American stock market, which performed well over those 35 years, performed like the Japanese market over that time period, the retiree would have lost $70,000.

2) Why would privatization work for Americans who lost trillions in private retirement accounts in the financial crisis?

Americans lost trillions of dollars out of their 401(k)s and other retirement accounts in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In 2009, CBS News posed the question: “What kind of retirement program allows millions of people to lose 30 to 50 percent of their life savings just as they near retirement?” According to a lobbyist for the 401(k) industry, the answer was one that empowers people to make their own investment decisions. Fortunately for Americans who lost nearly all of their retirement savings, Social Security was still there for them. But privatization would mean the program was subject to the same market whims as their other retirement accounts.

3) Did you know young people want to have Social Security in its current form?

Romney and his fellow Republicans push privatization as a way to give younger Americans more choice in Social Security’s future. But polling conducted by the AARP in 2010 found that 90 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 viewed Social Security as an important program, and more than 80 percent would rather keep the program as it is than invest in the market on their own, even if they knew their private investments would outperform the program itself.

4) Are you aware that Social Security is neither broke nor a main driver of our deficits?

Republicans continually lump Social Security with other entitlement programs, leading voters to believe it is both broke and a main driver of our debt. In reality, it is neither. Social Security can pay out full benefits until 2037, and it hasn’t added a penny to the nation’s debt or deficits, since it’s prohibited by law from doing so.

5) Why do you dismiss the easiest way to ensure Social Security’s long-term viability?

Both in his book and on the campaign trail, Romney has repeatedly dismissed proposals to raise the payroll tax cap. Raising the cap and allowing income above $106,800 to be taxed for Social Security purposes would ensure the program’s long-term viability for the next 75 years. But not only does Romney dismiss that fact, he often gets it wrong, telling one town hall attendee that lifting the cap wouldn’t “begin to solve the problem,” when in fact, it would solve the problem entirely.

6) How would you pay for privatization?

Romney assures older voters that his privatization plan won’t change the way benefits are structured for Americans over age 55 or older. But that raises serious questions about how his privatization plan would be paid for. If younger Americans are diverting some money into private accounts, it would reduce the amount taken in by the Social Security trust fund. To avoid cutting benefits, Romney would likely have to add trillions of dollars to the deficit. But to avoid adding to the deficit, he would likely have to cut benefits.

Romney continues to stake his campaign on Perry’s radical views on Social Security, betting that opposing such a popular program will be anathema even to GOP primary voters. But a major part of Romney’s own position on Social Security is one that has already been pitched to and subsequently rejected by the American people. While he continues to ask important questions of Perry, Americans deserve some answers from Romney too.