Shortly after the fiscal cliff deal passed Congress, it was reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had literally burned a written proposal by President Obama to offer changes to Social Security as part of a fiscal cliff offer. This is consistent with Senator Reid’s purposeful ignorance about the dire straits facing Social Security, even as the program’s fiscal health has gotten worse. It’s also consistent with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) full retreat on Social Security reform last Friday, and the lack of Social Security reform in the 2012 House Republican budget.
How bad is the program’s fiscal health? While tax revenues started falling short of outlays starting in 2010 (seven years earlier than expected, due to the recession), the Trust Fund was predicted to start losing money in 2020. However, as reported by the think tank Just Facts, the program will start losing money this year. In a phone conversation this morning, Just Facts President Jim Agresti explained where the government got it wrong:
The media and government are telling people that the trust fund will not start declining in value until 2020. But this ignores inflation. When you account for inflation, as all legitimate estimates should, the Trust Fund will lose value in 2013.
What are the implications of the Trust Fund going empty? As I wrote at Hot Air last year, major cuts, major tax increases or major deficits are the future of Social Security. According to Social Security Trustee Charles Blahous in testimony to my former boss Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) in June 2012, the Social Security Disability Program is facing a $30 billion annual shortfall by 2016, and that the entire program will face a $367 billion (inflation-adjusted) annual shortfall in 2033. For some perspective, this is over 4 times what we will spend in 2013 on food stamps. It is therefore doubtful these cuts are actually going to happen, which means Blahous’ prediction that the program will rob the general fund of the Treasury to cover the Social Security shortfall is likely correct.
Blahous’ testimony, which can be found through the above link, is worth watching in order to translate Washington-speak on Social Security to English. Similarly, Blahous’ more recent analysis on the necessity of bipartisanship to fix the program is also worth reading. Blahous points out that the program is so far gone that traditional solutions offered by both parties would not actually keep the program solvent. Most relevant, perhaps, for Tea Party activists is Blahous’ assertion that eliminating the Social Security tax cap would not balance the program’s long-term obligations.
Politicians, media pundits, and others have often claimed the Tea Party puts ideology above reality. Yet it is increasingly clear that the real ideologues are those in the overspending crowd – people who are closing their eyes to the facts rather than admit their fantasies do not match reality.