Apparently, the latest sobering report from the Social Security and Medicare trustees can be viewed more ways than one.
If you’re at strengthensocialsecurity.org, you see only blue skies smiling at you. The website said the report shows only a growing Social Security surplus that, with a few minor tweaks, can be kept strong forever — provided the nation can keep the greedy corporations and bankers from getting hold of it. (Read the report here.)
I’m guessing that group doesn’t see any problem with the United States having the highest corporate tax rate in the free world, nor do they see any slightest connection between corporate wealth, salaries and tax revenues. But I digress …
The real sobering part of the latest projections isn’t that, as trustee Robert D. Reischauer said, “Under current law, both of these vitally important programs are on unsustainable paths.”
It is that the obstacles to any sort of solution are so maddeningly out of reach.
Really, the reports held little, if any, new information. Social Security and Medicare are going broke, even as their share of the budget pie increases. And one side insists on cuts while the other side insists on tax increases.
I’ll give President Obama credit on this one. He actually agreed to meet Republicans on their insistence on using a so-called “chained CPI” to calculate cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits. Chained CPI would result in slightly smaller benefits.
But all that did was anger other Democrats and powerful interest groups, such as AARP, that stand firmly against any reduction in benefits.
Yes, the Social Security trust fund — which, let’s be honest, is nothing more than I.O.U.s from the federal treasury that must be funded by taxpayers — won’t be exhausted until 2033. But the disability trusts fund will be broke in 2016.
That is a serious problem that demands immediate attention, especially since it involves payments to workers on disability.
Of course, an easy fix would be simply to move money from the Social Security trust fund to the disability trust fund, but you don’t need an economics degree to see what that would do to Social Security’s long-term output.
No, this is hardly a blue-sky forecast. The only possible break in the clouds is the fact that Americans are, on average, getting older, and those older people, who tend to vote, will be demanding solutions as the deadlines draw closer.