Wash. Post Pushes Myth That Social Security Is In Dire Straits

WapoThe Washington Post misled about the cost of Social Security to claim the program's costs are skyrocketing and will need to be restrained as part of any deal to curb federal deficits.

The Post asserted in a November 25 article: “Without a deal on taxes, there is not much hope for agreement on a broader strategy for restraining the national debt that also tackles the skyrocketing cost of federal retirement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.” The Post later paired statements by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) stating that Social Security is not a major problem with comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying Social Security benefit cuts are necessary.  The Post, however, made no attempt to report the facts on Social Security:

Republicans want cuts to fast-growing federal retirement programs, projected to be the biggest driver of future borrowing. Their opening bid included a demand to apply a less-generous measure of inflation to Social Security, which would slow the rise of benefit payments.

Obama agreed to the idea in talks with Boehner during the summer of 2011. But since the election, liberal groups have mobilized against it and Reid has ruled it out. On Sunday, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), appeared to endorse Reid's position, though he argued that Democrats should ignore calls to take Medicare off the table.

“Social Security does not add one penny to our debt -- not a penny. It's a separate funded operation,” Durbin said on ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “Medicare's another story -- only 12 years of solvency if we do nothing. So those who say, 'Don't touch it. Don't change it,' are ignoring the obvious.”

Durbin suggested higher payments for “high-income beneficiaries” but expressed concerns about another idea Obama has previously accepted -- raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C) said on the same show that gradually raising the retirement age -- for both Medicare and Social Security -- is exactly the kind of “eminently reasonable” entitlement reform Republicans will demand.

“I don't expect Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan,” Graham said, referring to a Medicare proposal championed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “But I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country.” 

Contrary to the Post's assertions that Social Security costs are “skyrocketing” and “fast-growing,” the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Social Security spending is not projected to rise sharply, especially in contrast to Medicare. According to CBO, Social Security spending as of 2011 is equal to 4.69 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Seventy-five years later, CBO estimates that Social Security spending as a share of GDP will rise only to 6.63 percent of GDP.

Furthermore, as Durbin noted, Social Security is prohibited from running a deficit. So if Congress does not act, beginning in 2034, Social Security will pay out 81 percent of its promised benefits but won't add a penny to the deficit.

Economists agree that Social Security is not a major problem for the federal budget.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out: “While the United States does have a long-run budget problem, Social Security is not a major factor in that problem.” Center for Budget and Policy Priorities economist Kathy Ruffing has also noted that, far from being in crisis, Social Security's shortfall over the next 75 years would be almost completely restored by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans.

In contrast to Social Security, Medicare costs are increasing due to overall increases in U.S. health care costs. Thus, to control Medicare costs, it is necessary to lower the rate of increase in health care costs.