Krugman takes on Social Security and the Catfood Commission today:
Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.
Meanwhile, an aging population will eventually (over the course of the next 20 years) cause the cost of paying Social Security benefits to rise from its current 4.8 percent of G.D.P. to about 6 percent of G.D.P. To give you some perspective, that’s a significantly smaller increase than the rise in defense spending since 2001, which Washington certainly didn’t consider a crisis, or even a reason to rethink some of the Bush tax cuts.
So where do claims of crisis come from? To a large extent they rely on bad-faith accounting. In particular, they rely on an exercise in three-card monte in which the surpluses Social Security has been running for a quarter-century don’t count — because hey, the program doesn’t have any independent existence; it’s just part of the general federal budget — while future Social Security deficits are unacceptable — because hey, the program has to stand on its own.
It would be easy to dismiss this bait-and-switch as obvious nonsense, except for one thing: many influential people — including Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the president’s deficit commission — are peddling this nonsense.
The major problem is that in the entire 75 years of its existence, there's been a seriously committed conservative effort to undermine it. At this point, Alan Simpson could actually be convinced of the nonsense and arguing, in his own mind, in good faith. Or he could be a craven liar, which is probably just as likely. It's, as Krugman says, it's an ideological battle for them: "its success undermines their claim that government is always the problem, never the solution."
Thus, arguing from reality with its well-known liberal bias won't work. What will work is bashing politicians over the head with the fact that 85% of Americans oppose cutting Social Security to pay off the deficit. There's a reason the Democrats are running ads on the GOP's efforts to gut Social Security. Dems will need to remember that factoid when the Catfood Commission comes out with its recommendations this fall. Any cuts to Social Security on the Democrats' watch will destroy them politically.