In recent months, Jack Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have asserted that Social Security is not part of the federal budget problem. The federal government’s biggest program, they say, has ample resources to cover legislated benefits over the next 25 years. Therefore, lawmakers need be in no hurry to tackle Social Security’s long-term funding gap.
As a long-time analyst of U.S. retirement policy, I believe these claims are fatally flawed. In fact, Social Security’s financing costs already are adding to the federal government’s overall debt burden. Moreover, the longer we wait to rebalance the program, the higher the economic and political costs of the adjustments that must be made.
From a progressive perspective, I find it disconcerting that, instead of strengthening Social Security for future generations, leading Democrats are instead finding excuses not to deal with the system’s real but quite manageable fiscal gap. Having studied and written about Social Security’s history, I can’t help but compare such evasions with the rigorous sense of fiscal responsibility and intergenerational justice shown by the system’s creator, Franklin D. Roosevelt.