WASHINGTON--Former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), the co-chairs of the Concord Coalition, sent a letter today to Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) commending him for pledging that Congress will "no longer use Social Security proceeds to mask the budget deficit" once he becomes Speaker of the House. The letter cautions, however, that taking Social Security off-budget is harder to accomplish than most people might realize.
Nunn and Rudman note that the Social Security program is already legally and officially off-budget. Unfortunately, all previous legislative attempts to isolate the program have not worked. "Politicians from both parties, White House and Congress alike, still talk, act, and legislate as if laws removing Social Security from the federal budget had never been enacted."
Trying to protect Social Security surpluses by moving them to special accounts at the Treasury Department or elsewhere would be a sham, according to Nunn and Rudman. Such accounts would fail to stop the government from double counting and spending the money.
Nunn and Rudman offer two suggestions to Livingston in the letter. They urge Livingston, as Speaker, to change the language of the debate by influencing the Budget Committee, leadership, and rank-and-file members to talk about the $29 billion deficit that results when Social Security is not counted in all press releases and public statements. "Changing the rhetoric will change the way we think about fiscal policy, and that in turn will help to change policy decisions."
Nunn and Rudman also urge Congress to tackle the long-term Social Security program early in 1999, before any more of the program's annual surplus is squandered. "The time is right for reform. The economy is strong. The issue has been debated in forums across the nation. And baby boomers, starting in the 106th Congress, will be in the majority for the first time. Boomers understand, perhaps better than others, that their retirement will strain the Social Security program and their kids' capacity to finance it. As Speaker, we hope you will lead the first boomer Congress in history to solve this problem before it gets worse-and before they begin to retire."
MEDIA ADVISORY: A copy of the complete letter to Rep. Livingston is available by following this link.