The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Reason to be wary

In Political world on June 9, 2010 at 7:26 am

Lori Montgomery, writing in the Washington Post this morning, explains why Social Security’s supporters (which actually include the vast majority of Americans), are concerned about the president’s deficit commission.

Commission members have declined to say what options they are considering, repeating the Obama mantra that everything is “on the table.” But options for Social Security are no secret: In addition to boosting taxes, the lengthy list includes raising the retirement age for people now in middle age and trimming benefits for the wealthy.

In a common refrain, Eugene Steuerle, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, makes the claim that Social Security is taking money from future generations.  “Is your 20th year in retirement a higher priority than educating your kids in the schools?” he asks. But this argument misses the point: what will be the effect on future generations if they are asked to provide support for their aging relatives? In addition, a cut in benefits today means a cut in benefits for generations to come, as well.

Montgomery allows Social Security’s supporters to present their case:

At Social Security Works, Altman, a former tax lawyer who taught at Harvard University and assisted former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan on a 1982 commission credited with temporarily restoring Social Security’s solvency, argues that there are better options than cutting benefits. Raising the income cap for Social Security taxes or imposing a tax on Wall Street transactions, she said, would raise enough to keep the program solvent for years.

“This is not a crackpot side of the debate,” Altman said, citing polls showing broad public opposition to benefits cuts, even among conservatives. “My goal is not to further undercut people’s confidence in Washington. But I don’t feel like I can just be quiet when they are about to do what I feel is a real disservice to the American people.”

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