Social Security and National Security

The Bottom Line continues its blog series highlighting our Ten Questions to Ask the Candidates ahead of the mid-term elections.

5. Strengthening Social Security. Do you believe that Social Security is in financial trouble? If so, what should be done to strengthen it? The Social Security Trustees’ most recent report says that Social Security will run a cash-flow deficit of more than $40 billion this year, $100 billion by 2020, and more than $450 billion by 2030.

As the Trustees state, “The projected trust fund shortfalls should be addressed in a timely way so that necessary changes can be phased in gradually and workers can be given time to plan for them. Implementing changes sooner will allow the needed revenue increases or benefit reductions to be spread over more generations.”

Social Security is the largest program in the federal government. Every candidate running for office should have an understanding of this program, its problems, its strengths and a plan to strengthen its long-term finances. We cannot afford to ignore the tough choices needed to ensure the sustainable solvency of this essential program.

It is not enough to promise solvency over the standard 75-year period. Voters should ask of any plan, what happens after the 75th year? CRFB advises a focus on cash flow--any reform plan must eventually bring revenues and expenses in line. See CRFB's proposals for Social Security reform here.

6. Finding Savings in Defense. Do you think we should pay for any additional war costs by cutting other programs or raising taxes, instead of continuing to borrow to fund them? Do you believe that defense cuts should be one way to decrease the federal debt? This is the only time in our nation’s history when we have not increased taxes during a prolonged war. Thus far, approximately $1 trillion has been appropriated for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total defense spending was $692 billion this year, or 4.7 percent of GDP. This spending is a post-World War II high when measured in constant dollars.

Defense and security spending represent around 20% of the budget. The Sustainable Defense Task Force has come out with a plan that would achieve nearly $1 trillion in defense savings. The report and efforts by Defense Secretary Gates underscore the point that there is significant savings to be found in defense without threatening U.S. security. As we have stated previously, “done thoughtfully and prudently, changes to the security budget can lead to significant savings in the nation’s budget.”