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Why Social Security Shouldn't Be Job #1


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May 13, 2005

Why Social Security Shouldn't Be Job #1

Michael Mandel

Some good stuff from Brad DeLong, who argues that too much emphasis is being put on Social Security reform. He writes

Why is the American political system focusing its attention on Social Security? Is this really the aspect of American fiscal policy that should be absorbing our attention right now? The answer is that we shouldn't. We shouldn't be focusing on Social Security right now.This comes from a memo that he wrote to the Democratic Policy Committee on Social Security. I have some issues with Brad (including his use of the term 'reality-based' to describe his views), but the memo is well worth reading.

02:23 PM

Fiscal Policy

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? SOCIAL SECURITY AN INVESTMENT BASED ON ILLUSIONS from Social Security Attorney

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Brad writes of "the aspect of American fiscal policy that should be absorbing our attention right now", as if there were only one top priority and as if he doesn't believe that the folks down in "the district" can keep two thoughts in their heads at same time. Yes, he's entitled to his opinion, but he should try not to ignore the reality of how Washington actually does works.

I'm sure he's as aware of all the politics as the rest of us, but it is *not* a matter of prioritizing each issue and then focusing only on the top issue, one issue at a time. By carrying on as if that was the model, he comes across as being, uh, less than 'reality-based'.

We all know the two realities here: 1) we know the approximate parameters of refinancing social security, but we keep dealying and delaying and delaying, so we should be happy if this is finally the year that we finally address the issue, and 2) the conservatives desperately wish to shrink the impact of central federal government, and private-whatever for social security is the "shot" that they happened to opt for this year. Even if their shot misses, it was worth the gamble for them and they'll just keep shooting until eventually they do score the hit.

Yes, social security reform shouldn't necessarily be Job #1, but if your goal (or Brad's goal) had been to shrink the impact of the central federal government, it could reasonably be job #1.

So, what's Brad's point, other than obvious political posturing?

He wants to move "the center of policy making and implementation in this administration" outside the White House, which could of course be his preference if he were President Brad Long, but there are plenty of Republicans in Congress who would just as soon see "the White House" take all of the heat. The 'reality' is that a lot of the lobbying for the policies being pursued by the White House *originated* outside of the White House in the first place.

Incidentally, Job #1 should be to expand economic growth and to push unemployment down. That would raise tax revenues and cut the budget deficit.

Finally, if he don't refinance social security this year (or next year), what year would Brad have us do that job in? Why wait? A refinancing plan doesn't have to impact anybody before the upcoming mid-term election, but it would be nice to put a plan in place with a schedule of adjustements that would take effect incrementally over the next five years.

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at May 13, 2005 09:03 PM


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