Hillary’s Social Security two-step

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.)


  1. Thomas Bonsell

    This Ambrose thing is a complete ninny.

    He seems to think there is a serious problem with Social Security even though the “experts” say the “problem” is minor and can be fixed with some tweaking. But he, and all other right-wingers, say there is no problem with the $9 trillion debt run up by the Reagan-Bush-Bush triumphant of clowns and that deficits “don’t matter.”

    They claim their economic packages of tax cuts for the wealthy will spur great economic growth that will eliminate the debt because it will produce greater tax receipts, but that same growth won’t produce additional tax receipts for Social Security. Ambrose and his ilk are operating on mental failure.

    Had an email discussion with Ambrose several months ago in which he claimed that federal judges didn’t have the authority to “change the definition of marriage” in their rulings about same-sex marriages. I told him that the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment covered the issue because the Constitution says that judicial power includes “all cases” arising under the Constitution, laws and treaties and there were no exceptions to this power. He claimed there was an exception on marriage but refused to cite that exception. Asked him about a dozen times to quote the Constitution, law or treaty that excluded equal marriage rights for gays and he refused to even try. Seemed to claim his opinion was more important that our constitutional principles.

    Why Capital Hill Blue continues to give space to this dolt is a mystery.

  2. jzelensk

    Ambrose is in error. He should do his homework.

    To say that the federal General Fund’s deficits and the national debt belong to the Social Security Trust Fund is flat wrong. It is the Trust Fund that has been bankrolling the government, in the form of accepting U.S. Treasury Bonds in exchange for the cold hard cash that workers have been paying into the system since 1983 (the year most of the Greenspan Commission recommendations were adopted), the safest investment security in world history. The US owes this principal and interest the same as it owes on any other Treasuries, owned by you and me, the Central Bank of China, etc. Through wars, recessions, etc. the US has never once defaulted on a Treasury bond; and we intend to start just because it owes the money to the SS Trust Fund?

    Take a look at the Trust Fund balance through history. Beginning in 1983 it began to dramatically rise (thanks to the 1983 reforms) to truly towering levels. And the American people want to steal this money from working stiffs 1983-2041 just so the super-wealthy can enjoy huge tax cuts? That is what you are saying when you alledge that the General Fund won’t/can’t make good on the bonds.

    The nation can afford to pay these bonds back, rather easily, if we just reverse a few of the most egregious actions taken during Bush II, and make some really minor adjustments to the Social Security program itself. One example: make 90% of all wages subject to the payrol tax as was the case in 1983. The Bush and Neocon approach of private accounts was not only a bad idea on its face, it had nothing to do with “fixing” Social Security.

    Economic productivity in the US (GDP growth after adjusting for inflation) has historically grown by 2.2% annually. Senator Hillary Clinton, knows that the SSA projections (under Bush direction) have deliberately underestimated the Trust Fund projections in order to conjure up a fake “crisis,” as does the American Academy of Actuaries. The real gap, if it exists at all, is thje smallest of any decade since the beginning of the Social Security program, as a percentage of worker payroll.

    The Social Security “problem” is purely one of political will, not one of economics.

  3. SEAL

    Thaomas writes:
    “Had an email discussion with Ambrose several months ago in which he claimed that federal judges didn’t have the authority to “change the definition of marriage” in their rulings about same-sex marriages.”

    Change WHAT definition of marriage? Where is it defined? While marriage has traditionally been considered the union of a man and woman, there is no “official” defintion stating that. At least not to my knowledge or any source I can find. You can marry a bolt to a nut or two pieces of lumber with a nail. Anytime you connect two items (or people) together for one purpose you marry them.

    The religious rights “definition of marriage” is a pile of manure second only in size to Bush’s “support the troops.”

  4. Thomas Bonsell

    To a right winger, a “definition of marriage” is whatever a right winger claims it to be at the moment. That is true of any reality the righty wants to claim, such as “freedom”, “democracy”, “war on terror”.

    The truth is that government doesn’t have the authority to regulate our marriages nor our love lives. Article I, Section 8, paragraph 18 says all laws must be based on powers the Constitution places with government. There is no power stated or implied that says government has authority over marriages, relationships, love lives or ect.

    What authority government can use is the power to regulate commerce; specifically over contracts, which marriage is. And there is nothing to suggest that gay people can’t enter into a contract with the same freedom as we straights can.

    Incidentally, the right is full of crap with the argument that if gays could marry there would be nothing from stopping a person from marrying his dog or a tree. Dogs and trees can’t enter into contracts because they aren’t “competent parties” able to reach “mutual agreements” to “provide consideration”; three of the four requirements of a valid contract.

  5. fritzer

    I suggest that if CHB continues to give “airtime” to Jay Ambrose that we all cancel our subscriptions to CHB. Are you listening (reading) Doug?
    We certainly DO NOT need any more apologists for Bushco.