Not Making the Social Security Grade

Many Americans lament the state of U.S. education; they fear that low standards and expectations are impairing the ability of our children to prepare for the challenges ahead. Now some want to bring that same curriculum for failure to Social Security.

The Campaign for America’s Future and other groups are pushing for candidates to promise to oppose any Social Security reforms that include benefit cuts. The group will issue a report card for Members of Congress and candidates: those that oppose all benefit cuts will get an “A” while those that support plans that include cuts in any form will get an “F.”

Talk about grading on a curve—or more like an upside down curve. These standards make it much, much, harder to put Social Security back on sound footing.

The recent annual report from the Social Security Trustees lays out plainly that the program faces a future shortfall. It will run cash flow deficits in all future years but three and will no longer be able to pay benefits in full by 2037. It is obvious that changes will have to be made to strengthen the program and as the program’s own Trustees say—the sooner the better.

When a student is not performing to his/her potential the key is to identify the problem and develop a plan to help them. Rigging the grading scale does not help—in fact it allows the problem to persist, ultimately, making it harder to fix. Reading the Trustees report would be a good homework assignment for those who are truly interested in protecting Social Security.

The group is also circulating a pledge for candidates to sign promising not to support any Social Security benefit cuts in any form. Another pledge of what policymakers will not do to fix the nation’s fiscal challenges is exactly what we don’t need. Much like the “no new taxes” pledge, it is harmful to the public discourse and finding sensible solutions to our country’s fiscal problems. Revenue increases and spending cuts must both be part of the discussion in reducing our long-term debt. Strengthening Social Security—much like fixing the rest of the budget—will require compromises and tradeoffs. All options must be on the table and constructively discussed. Demagoging the issue without presenting alternatives for improving its long-term outlook will not preserve Social Security.

If we want to ensure that Social Security will be able to help future generations, then our grading needs to be more objective and our pledges more inclusive.

We suggest a more appropriate grading scale. Those who demagogue Social Security to avoid making necessary changes get an F. Those who acknowledge the need for changes to strengthen the program get a passing grade. Those who present credible options to bring Social Security into balance—be they on the tax or on the spending side—get a B. And those who support comprehensive plans to bring the program into balance get an A.

If Campaign for America's Future really wants to help the program they profess to care about so much, they would put together a detailed plan to save it; right now, based on a balanced grading scale, they risk getting a failing grade.