It is evident that too many presidents and too many members of Congress have spent money as if there were no tomorrow, creating a $14.3 trillion national debt that poses a gigantic threat to our economy.
But “tomorrow” is here. And now, rather than deal forthrightly with the reckless spending that got us into our current predicament, it appears that some in Washington are willing to use some sleight of hand to wring savings out of Social Security.
It has long been thought that Social Security was politically untouchable — that attempting to reform it was a sure way for a politician to lose the next election.
But obviously, reform of massive entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare must be at least part of the solution to our debt — and is necessary to keep the programs themselves solvent.
That could involve things such as slowly raising the age at which a person becomes eligible for Social Security benefits. But the Obama administration is turning Social Security “reform” into a game of smoke and mirrors.
The White House is looking at squeezing money out of Social Security by using a different and less common measure of inflation, called the Chained Consumer Price Index. It generally shows inflation to be lower than the measure of inflation that is more commonly used, the Consumer Price Index.
If estimates of inflation are rosier, then any annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security payments, government pensions and benefits for veterans will be smaller, because inflation will “seem” to be lower, and therefore payments will not rise as much as they would if inflation “seemed” higher. Many people would also face higher Medicare premiums under the proposal.
But simply saying inflation is lower under some new measure does not actually make prices for goods and services drop. That’s why this latest proposal is at least somewhat dishonest.
We do need reform of entitlements, but the White House and Congress should not pursue those reforms through accounting tricks.
There is plenty of excessive spending on everything from ethanol subsidies to ObamaCare that could readily be cut now or in the very near future.
But any talk of altering Social Security benefits should be clear, open and understandable. It certainly should not be based on numbers gimmicks.