November 27, 2014

No Sweet Talk on Social Security as Fiscal Commission Weighs Possible Reforms

  • Social Security, established in 1935, is the federal government’s largest program. It represents approximately one-fifth of the federal budget and...

Lollipops became an unexpected point of contention as the President’s fiscal commission turned its attention to Social Security. Barry Anderson, who has been head of budgeting at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said he passed them out to college students to emphasize that they would be “suckers” to think their scheduled Social Security benefits won’t eventually be changed.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat on the bipartisan commission, objected to this as a “cynical” move that would create doubts about the availability of future benefits. But as Anderson's response indicated, suggesting that benefits will change is not the same thing as predicting they will disappear entirely. And they will need to change.

Concerned about what the commission might recommend later this year, a coalition called “Strengthen Social Security” on Thursday denounced the idea of trimming benefits. Social Security, the coalition says, is not responsible for the current federal deficit.

That’s true but overlooks a key problem, Concord Executive Director Bob Bixby says. “Social Security is going to grow much more rapidly in the coming two decades and that is going to put a big strain on the budget,” he points out. Concord supports reforms in Social Security and other federal entitlement programs that will make them sustainable for many years to come.

The debate on Social Security will likely pick up momentum when the Social Security Trustees issue their annual report on the program this Thursday.