Hillary Rodham Clinton says she has a million ideas, and the dreadful, terrible shame is that one of them isn’t to do anything about Social Security except dance away and invent fabrications.
What we have here is ignominy, and not just a smidgen of it. As of now, the New York senator is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for president, and few domestic issues loom larger in the years immediately ahead than what to do about the crushing expense of entitlements for the elderly as baby boomers retire. Yet, when the question of Social Security comes up, she skedaddles by a quick, clever sideways step or two out of the room, waving a merry goodbye to one and all.
“What, me worry?” she as much as said in one debate, though her actual words were to the effect that as president she would straighten out the nation’s fiscal mess and then let economic growth take care of Social Security. She contended, as she has since, that during her husband’s administration, the program was solvent through 2055, whereas now it is only solvent through 2041.
Point No. 1: Clinton’s way of achieving fiscal responsibility is to pledge the spending of untold billions of extra federal dollars on such projects as giving $5,000 to each newborn American baby each year with no cuts or additional taxes that would come close to paying even a fraction of all the costs. She says she has a million ideas but that we can’t afford them. We can’t afford the bunch she has already enumerated.
Point No. 2: It is an absurdity of the first order to think the country can grow its way out of this problem even if a second President Clinton were a budget-slashing terror with a pro-business agenda causing wild cheers on Wall Street.
Social Security surpluses have been spent elsewhere. The number of recipients is set to increase enormously as, in the words of one observer, we become “a nation of Floridas.” And the number of workers transferring a portion of their income to these recipients is going to shrink. Trillions and trillions of dollars beyond revenue projections will be required to fund Social Security if it is not restructured, and the money is not going to plop into the government’s lap through the power of wishful thinking.
Point No. 3: As virtually everyone who knows anything concedes and many have written, we’re no more than 10 years away from a point where Social Security tax revenues are no longer sufficient to meet expenses. There is nevertheless a concept of how much has been taken in for the program that could be retrieved (through higher taxes or deficits) along with revenues, and it is irrefutably, demonstrably true that this so-called solvency during the Clinton administration was due to run out in 2037, not 2055 as Sen. Clinton says.
As a highly informed contact of mine in Washington observes, you might assume Clinton just got her facts mixed up the first time or two she made the error, but when she keeps getting this wrong and repeating that we’ve lost 14 years of solvency in the Bush administration, you conclude she is knowingly telling a whopper.
What’s particularly aggravating here is that Clinton, who is now proposing a federally subsidized individual retirement account apart from Social Security for all Americans, ferociously and demagogically screeched her lungs out in opposition to President Bush’s plan to do the same thing with a portion of Social Security taxes, and that solid, even courageous and easily defensible proposals can get as much trashing by commentators as her trickery and evasions.
True, Clinton has come in for some alert media criticism on Social Security, but then, so has Fred Thompson, the Republican presidential candidate who picked up on Bush’s other idea of using a price-indexing formula that would drastically cut Social Security costs over time without reducing the future standard of living of retirees from what it is now. As my Washington contact brought to my attention, TV’s Chris Matthews got this idea confused with cost-of-living adjustments, making it sound on his MSNBC show as if Thompson were a political ninny instead of a candidate being intelligently responsible on this issue.
It’s about time Hillary Clinton got responsible, too. And honest.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)