October 30, 2007

Which President-To-Be Will Attend?

David Broder has a wish for this presidential season, and that is for some serious talk about entitlement reform. A bipartisan group of legislators will meet tomorrow to see if common ground can be found for reworking Social Security and Medicare to defuse the generational time bomb that threatens to explode the federal budget in the next 10-15 years. With the baby boomers poised to enter the golden years, Broder wants to know who will take the lead for real solutions:

If I had the power to summon all 16 of the people running for president to be in one place, I would want them in a Senate hearing room for a session that is taking place tomorrow morning.

The hearing has been arranged by Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Democratic chairman of the Budget Committee, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Republican ranking member.

They have invited David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States and the head of the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress; William Novelli, the head of AARP, the senior citizens lobby; Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader; and Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff, budget director and former congressman.

What brings all these worthies together is an effort to revive the idea of a bipartisan effort to head off the bankrupting of America by runaway entitlement programs.

They and others, including Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, clearly see that unless ways are found to reform the financing and benefits of Social Security and Medicare, the demands imposed by the retirement of millions of baby boomers will consume the federal budget and blight the prospects of the next generations.

We have traveled this road before. In the Reagan administration, a bipartisan panel set up to rescue Social Security (headed by Alan Greenspan) delivered a compromise that effectively solved the inherent problems in the plan ... for a generation. Twenty-four years later, we see the next crisis rising in front of us, and we need a better solution than one that just kicks the can down the road for the next generation of politicians.

That requires some political courage on the part of both Congress and the Executive. George Bush offered a plan to reform Social Security in 2005, but Democrats pretended like the problem didn't exist at all, and castigated Bush's private-account plan as a raid on the Social Security fund. Now that they have control of Congress and responsibility for the impending disaster, they may have decided that valor is the better part of discretion, especially since they desperately need some sort of significant achievement for the 2008 elections.

Unfortunately, entitlements sit at a nexus of opposing philosophies of government. Conservatives want an end to most entitlements, especially at the federal level, as both extrajurisdictional and prone to waste, abuse, and fraud. Liberals see the federal government as the rational place for managing such systems for the fairest application of services, as well as a means to ensure that a wealthy nation does not allow its citizens to starve or go without care. The Right argues that the drain on personal resources aggravates the conditions that leads to both, while the Left insists that a safety net is absolutely necessary.

All sides have to find some solution to the problem, and that will necessarily involve either compromise or an abdication of responsibilities yet again. The latter will only make the eventual solution even more painful and dissatisfactory to everyone. The latter will take leadership -- and those who want to make the case for their executive abilities in this upcoming presidential election should explain clearly how they will work with all sides to avoid the disaster.

Broder's wishing for a star, rather than on one. Let's hope he gets his wish.


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Comments (29)

Posted by LamontP | October 30, 2007 10:36 AM

For the 150 million+ Americans who are paying into Social Security each payday, it is difficult to think of the program as an "entitlement". Whatever one's political leanings, those who have paid in expect to be able to collect later.

Posted by Hacklehead | October 30, 2007 10:41 AM

No presidential candidate from either party will go near Social Security reform - without everyone else attacking them. This is a major political trap and Broder is being naive in thinking otherwise.

Posted by Scrapiron | October 30, 2007 11:00 AM

Every failure in congress for the past six years tracks back to BDS. People like the anti-americans at KOS/HuffPuff, with the assistance of congressional democrats, have spread the mental illness to every weak minded person in America. Is it time for the (real) re-education camps the dhimmi's have hyped for the past six years?

Posted by hunter | October 30, 2007 11:04 AM

The democrats have betrayed America on this.
They have destroyed anyone who even tries meaningful reform of the 'entitlements' the democrats put in place. They are nothign more than a hug ponzi scheme, and the dems will never let it be fixed.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 30, 2007 11:19 AM

This is a major political trap and Broder is being naive in thinking otherwise.

BINGO!!!!! Hacklehead You NAILED IT and then screwed it down for good measure!!!!!

Broder is setting a trap.

The problem is admitting there is a problem. When the issue of SSA/Medicare entitlements came up last week, I read posts saying the standard AARP canard that SSA is solvent through the next 50 years. People wake up. The problem is seniors demanding to drive a Cadillac when they paid for a Chevy. The problem is seniors are four times more likely to vote than the younger people who are currently paying into the system. The problem is there are strong and powerful forces (AARP) who have a vested interest in maintaining that there is no problem.

Did you know federal tax dollars subsidize AARP and AARP to the tune of $80 million annually and that it was AARP who put out a 10 million dollar advertizing blitz which effectively killed SSA reform less than 2 years ago?


So we pay lobbyists to lobby our congressmen and women?

And Broder thinks that this gang that is genetically predisposed against honest dialog is going to come together to "fix" SSA and Medicare.

Fool, please. This was Broder and the Washington Post on Social Security Reform in 2005. He chastized Democrats for not dealing when they were a minority party, what makes him think they will deal now when there is no political cost to obstruction and no deal on the table?


AARP still sucks.

Posted by nightjar | October 30, 2007 11:29 AM

"George Bush offered a plan to reform Social Security in 2005, but Democrats pretended like the problem didn't exist at all, and castigated Bush's private-account plan as a raid on the Social Security fund. Now that they have control of Congress and responsibility for the impending disaster, they may have decided that valor is the better part of discretion, especially since they desperately need some sort of significant achievement for the 2008 elections."

George Bush offered a plan to destroy SS, not save it. We Moonbat's may be dumb but not that dumb.

Dems called it a raid on the SS fund because it was. It is not an entitlement as you say, ED. And as you say, conservatives don't like social programs of any kind, even ones that have staved off depressions your ideology caused in the 30's.

All the while creating the greatest economy the world has ever known.

Please, please, please make SS privatization an issue for 2008. Seniors who love and depend on SS INSURANCE will certainly rise up to support your candidate.

Posted by Jim K | October 30, 2007 11:45 AM

I think everybody just like to pretend that Fred isn't in the room. He's the only candidate to speak out on Entitlements: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1029/p01s08-usec.html, except for maybe Shrillary, and she just want to create more of them.

Posted by onlineanalyst | October 30, 2007 12:06 PM

The "seniors who love and depend on SS INSURANCE" were not going to be affected by the plans to partially privatize accounts, nightjar. A disingenuous (heck, downright fallacious), expensive PR thrust by AARP created fears in the senior set. It's too bad that the seniors can't see that they are dipping deeper and deeper into their children's and grandchildren's ability to prepare for their own retirement years, much less afford to meet the current expenses of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Posted by unclesmrgol | October 30, 2007 12:07 PM

We cannot end entitlements such as Social Security or Medicare.

The reason FDR set things up the way he did was to cover the current generation of the time. Hence, we have children paying to finance the retirement of their parents and grandparents.

Any plan (which is why the AARP representative is undoubtedly there) must preserve the entitlements of the generations who worked for them, and yet somehow begin the shift to a plan where a worker pays for their own retirement. That's what Bush wanted -- I can't figure out why the Dems were so dumb back then.

That means that some generation is going to be doing some fraction of a "double payment", but it needs to be done. I'd prefer that it begin with my generation, so in two or three generations the problem is permanently solved, with the entitlement being paid by the generation consuming it.

The reason the can keeps being kicked down the road is selfishness -- nobody wants to be the first to have to fix Roosevelt's political ploy which, at the time when each generation was so much larger than the next, seemed OK.

These entitlements are not going to go away. In particular, the medical entitlement is not going to go away -- John Edwards and his ilk have seen to that, and nobody in the AARP group is going to stand for any decrease in actual benefits. The costs of catastrophic care are so high as to be insurmountable to the average American.

Posted by hermie | October 30, 2007 12:11 PM

This is just a way for Broder to help the Dems in 2008.

They set up this phoney 'discussion' and come away with a supposed 'bipartisan consensus', which when the GOP candidates attack the Dems' lack of a plan, Clinton and the others will bring up the 'bipartisan consensus' and that the GOP candidate wants to starve old people.

Posted by nightjar | October 30, 2007 12:18 PM

You could be right onlineanalyst. I think you should push for republican candidates to make this a top tier issue. Surely, the RW message machine can counter-act mis-info by one puny advocacy group.

I know this is a concern troll statement, but I still think the American public should decide if your right. And that's usually done by Presidential elections.

Posted by CoRev | October 30, 2007 12:29 PM

Baby boomers, the generation of children born between 1945 - 1964. It totals @76M, and comprises @ 28% of the US population. As to SS this generation will impact the SS payments for @ 20-25 years starting in 2007, so, every year SS collects more than it pays out, diminishes the impact of this phenomenon.

The last SS Trust Fund estimates by the SS Commission estimated that date to be 2017, but, each year that date has been extended. That extension means that at this point @ 1/2 the problem is already covered by annual collections. Until that date is no longer extended, there is NO SS problem.

Medicare and medicaid? Another issue, totally!

Posted by Mike | October 30, 2007 12:49 PM

The right tends to favor strategies that promote and depend for success on the self interests of the individual citizen. The left tends to favor strategies that promote that depend on the selfless interests of government. The problem with these basic differences is that government has to be run by politicians and thus the selfless nature of it is not dependable.
There is a model to look at for a different type of social security concept. The Amish have long been exempted from having to pay into, and from receiving benefits from, the federal Social Security system. Their exemption was essentially that they do not believe in that system and do not wish to be dependent on it. Aside from the fact that this exemption discriminates against me for religious reasons, one can look at the Amish community and see that they mostly make good use of the revenue their exemption allows them to use and invest in areas they choose. In their case they often invest in land, business investments, tools, etc. with which they can further build their wealth. They also invest in their local social entities, and when a member needs help that system provides it without encouraging dependence.
Compare that to America’s inner cities that have multigenerational welfare families, and poor working people who have a very hard time making any investment after the government takes their money to support Social Security. The difference between these two views is precisely the difference between the right and the left in this issue.

Posted by Fred Fan | October 30, 2007 12:50 PM

I have to second the statement of Jim K above -- has no one heard a word that Fred Thompson has been saying. He is the only candidate to even breathe a word on entitlement reform and at least has started to discuss changes (indexing SS increases to the CPI rather than wage indexing and possibly higher Medicare premiums and co-pays for higher income recipients) and has promised a more detailed position paper in November.

Posted by TyCaptains | October 30, 2007 1:50 PM

It wasn't the Dems that killed SS reform - it was the AARP "convincing" the Republicans in Congress to let it die.

Bush tried to sell it to the public and failed...miserably.

It's not an entitlement considering people pay a portion of their taxes directly into it.

Slowly increase the cap and slowly increase the starting age of benefits. Problem solved.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 30, 2007 2:32 PM

It wasn't the Dems that killed SS reform - it was the AARP "convincing" the Republicans in Congress to let it die.

Please. I laugh because I care. To say that Democrats did not kill SSA Reform is to imply that they supported reform. Memory serves that two years ago, the Democrats did not see any problem with social security. In the words of our good liberal, Chuck Schumer:

"We're not going to get into any solutions here. We don't believe it's a crisis. We didn't call it a crisis. The president did."


To say that they Schumer and the Democrats support reform now is insulting. They may not have killed Social Security Reform in 2005, but their finger prints are on the murder weapon (AARP).

Broder is doing his usual cover the flank story to help Dems cover their tracks for killing SSA reform in 2005 by offering a lame reform in 2007, then blaming the President and Republicans for not signing on.

I loathe AARP with every fiber of my being. I am not a senior, but when I am, AARP is not getting a dime from me. I will not screw my children like AARP is trying to screw my generation.

Posted by Larry J | October 30, 2007 2:39 PM

Stonewalling Social Security reform is one reason why I'll never join AARP. They don't care how badly they screw over my kids and grandkids so long at they can prop up the current Ponzi scheme. They send me their junk mail flyers all the time but it just ends up being food for the shredder.

There are a host of reasons why I'll never vote for a Democrat. Social Security is just one of them.

Posted by Jim C | October 30, 2007 3:07 PM

I seem to remember the Democrats cheering when Bush mentioned in his State of the Union address that the Dems killed SSA reform. So, the idea that the dems didn't kill it is rediculous. Now, the AARP probably played a big part in it, but the dems had the reigns on that mess.

Jim C

Posted by TyCaptains | October 30, 2007 3:58 PM

Angry Dumbo: Please. I laugh because I care. To say that Democrats did not kill SSA Reform is to imply that they supported reform. Memory serves that two years ago, the Democrats did not see any problem with social security. In the words of our good liberal, Chuck Schumer:

I never said that Dems were FOR Reform, I only said that it wasn't them that killed it in 2005 - there is a subtle but crucial difference.

Republicans were in the majority, however slight during that time period. They only needed to peel off a few Dems, yet they couldn't even maintain collusion for themselves when the AARP "convinced" them to back off. They got weak in the knees when they looked at that lack of public support (AARP) for it.

It was not Dems that killed SS reform, it was weak Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. It's like blaming the Dems for the Miers fiasco. That one came from within.

Posted by gab | October 30, 2007 4:19 PM

Focusing on Social Security rather than Medicare is like worrying about the leaking faucet while Katrina is approaching. The SS problem is nothing compared to the deficit Medicare faces. And for those of you criticizing the Democrats for supporting SS in its current form while saying nothing about Medicare - you are either being disingenuous or liars.

And it was the current admin plus a majority Republican congress that passed an enormous entitlement in the form of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Or have you coneveniently forgotten that episode of pandering to the AARP membership? An entitlement that will suffer a far larger deficit over the next generation than Social Security ever will.

Posted by Burford Holly | October 30, 2007 4:22 PM

"The Left" likes Social Security? I can work with that. Is that the same "Left" that's blinded by hate and who wants to see America surrender to Islam? Damned Lefty Anti-American terrorist loving retirees with their cats and crocheting and snapshots of their grandchildren. They hate our soldiers, the bastards.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 30, 2007 4:44 PM

TyCaptains, no offesne, I am plenty mad at Republicans for buckling to AARP, but Schumer's timely words speak for themselves. That Democrats are not on the record opposing the several reform bills proposed is the result of Harry Reid using procedure to block votes on the issue.


A second bone of contention to your earlier post.

It's not an entitlement considering people pay a portion of their taxes directly into it.

An entitlement is a benign way of putting it. Social Security is best described as a regressive tax that impacts lower income wage earners in a much greater way than it does higher income earners who would not be relying on the money taken from social security to the same degree as lower income earners.

If a bank told me that they would be taking 20% of my income and giving me a 2.1% return, I would tell them to take a hike. No choice with the feds. Worse yet the money the feds take cannot be used by lower income wage earners, at least at the bank I could say hey I got money in the bank. Of course, we all know that social security is not money in the bank.

The Cato Institute (hardly a Republican stronghold) has been a strong advocate Social Security Reform since at least 1995 and is an excellent resource for the cause.


Posted by TyCaptains | October 30, 2007 5:47 PM

Angry Dumbo,

No offense taken whatsoever! A rational and calm discourse is ALWAYS welcomed - even if opinions differ.

IMO, Schumer is claiming a victory that was handed to him - they had precious few back then. The ball was in the Republicans' court and they dropped it.

Roy Blunt even removed it from the agenda basically admitting it was no longer a priority for them.

Don't get me wrong, the Dems put up a wall but if there is one thing Dems are not good at, it's sticking together.

And FWIW, the wife and I have completely written off getting back a single penny from SS - so I certainly have little desire to see the boat float in the current direction.

Posted by Soup Sandwich | October 30, 2007 7:44 PM

Your gloating about the political difficulty of fixing social security goes right to the heart of the problem. You probably wouldn't object to seeing social security fixed and available, but winning elections is more important right? You and your side are happy to economically tube everyone unless you get to be in charge. I'm guessing that if liberals get fat comfortable margins in both houses and maybe the presidency, it'll suddenly be morally acceptable to do the responsible thing. You probably feel the same way about the war and fighting jihadists.

Posted by Eric | October 30, 2007 7:48 PM

Every time the Republicans try to address this problem the Democrats use it to beat them about the head and shoulders. The other commenters are right - it's a trap. Look, the Democrats started it, and they've been resisting change. When it finally careens into a ditch let them fix it.

Posted by nightjar | October 30, 2007 11:41 PM

Soup Sandwich say's

BTW you have cool handle. Fixing SS by privatizing it, is not fixing it. It is a ploy by the right to begin the dismantlement of not only SS but all of the New Deal for ideological reasons. ED and others even now can't keep from calling it an entitlement which it is not. It is an insurance plan that seniors and disabled people pay into as a last chance safety net for middle and lower class people when disaster strikes their lives, or they get to old to work. Dems are open to a whole host fixing actions {Solvency creating] such as raising retirement age and raising the 80,000 dollar income cap. But never privatization. These are the same kind of repairs Regan made in the 80's to extend solvency and they will be the ones to fix the problems in the future. Dems are also open to private account's outside the trust fund, but will not make SS a gamble with the stock market. The American people by overwhelming margins want SS to stay in the form it's in now and you guys blame dems for "gloating" for protecting what the people want, then whine when it cost you votes. Similar thing is happening with S-CHIP. All of a sudden repubs are getting ideological about big spending and big government, when for the past 6 years you've expanded both way past what dems have ever done. Whatever difficulties you'll get for blocking popular social programs will have been caused by yourselves.

Posted by CDR M | October 31, 2007 7:01 AM

I just want to be allowed to opt out of SS and dump that 6.2% into my own damn ROTH. Far better return than I'll ever get out of SS. If they quit building stupid teapot and pack mule museums and bridges to nowhere, the government could actually refund the money we have paid into it and dump that into our retirement accounts. Why anyone in the world would want to have their retirement controlled by the government is beyond me when you can get risk free money market accounts with 5% right now. Plus with your private retirement accounts, if you kick the bucket, your family gets all the money not a portion as per the SS plan.

Posted by emdfl | October 31, 2007 11:43 AM

Nightjar -
If you think that that the Ponzi scheme called Social Security is ANYTHING except an entitlement program you need to find a school that still teaches real economics. And don't forget that there is NOTHING in the so-called SS Fund(HA, HA) except a bunch of IOU's from the last 40 years of thieving. Payment to current and future drawers are made from current tax revenue.

The only people who want this POS program are people incapable of doing basic math or libs(usually the same). If I could opt out right now and get the $140K+ that has been extorted from me through this Ponzi scheme I would do so tomorrow without a second look back, and I'm 63. I saw it for what it was when I went to work at 16.

As for the dhimmies being for any sort of privatazation( which has worked pretty well in every country it has been tried in), don't make me laugh. Wait until your boyos win next year(you hope), and those evil republican tax cuts go away. Enjoy your tax bill. My money is going into overseas hideouts as fast as I can move it.

And yes, the damn repubs have been spending like sailors on a weekend pass, but they have been getting a lot of help from the dhimmies.

Don't even get me started on medicare, medicade and the s-shit programs.

And CDR-M, that's more like 13%. You forgot the employer's match.

Posted by njcommuter | November 1, 2007 1:13 AM

Don't forget that FDR himself said that the program should eventually go private.

It's also worth considering what the value of your "contributions" (including the "employer's contribution") would have yielded had they been invested at just 8% annually. Over 40 years, by a very rough calculation, you'll have about 320 times your annual contribution, assuming a constant contribution, which of course isn't true. But assume that you and your employer together are putting $8,000 a year into those investments. At the end of 40 years, you have about $2,500,000. If you keep it invested and spend 4% a year ($100,000) you can keep drawing money forever. And soon you will get a large class of people for whom inflation is a large bogeyman, and who will pressure the government to keep the currency sound.

This neglects a serious problem: with all that money available for investment, returns will drop. On the other hand, since the government isn't pouring the money into its usual ratholes, at least some money will go to more productive purposes, perhaps balancing the effect a bit.

One more thing: if you want Social Security put on an investment foundation rather than a Ponzi foundation, do not let the AARP get a penny of your money. Ever. And tell your friends to do likewise.

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