As if the coming presidential election wasn’t already getting hairy for Dubya and his pals, the American people may be on the verge of another of those awkward “Eureka” moments like when David Kay confirmed for everyone that Iraq really didn’t have any of those fabled weapons of mass destruction.
See, the head of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, last week said that cutting Social Security benefits would be the only possible way to save the system. But some people, like David Cay Johnston in Sunday’s New York Times, remembered when Greenspan told a different story two decades ago:
Since 1983, American workers have been paying more into Social Security than it has paid out in benefits, about $1.8 trillion more so far. This year Americans will pay about 50 percent more in Social Security taxes than the government will pay out in benefits.A former top economist in the Clinton administration wrote to the Washington Post to make a similar point about Greenspan’s sleight-of-rhetoric. The 1983 tax increase was designed to reduce the national debt so that future generations would be able to absorb the challenge of paying for baby boomers’ retirement, something that finally began to happen in 1999 and 2000. Since then, however, the additional revenue has been vastly outweighed by the enormous Bushite tax cuts — with the lion’s share of the benefits going not to the people paying the Social Security taxes, but to the wealthiest 1% of individuals.
Those taxes were imposed at the urging of Mr. Greenspan, who was chairman of a bipartisan commission that in 1983 said that one way to make sure Social Security remains solvent once the baby boomers reached retirement age was to tax them in advance.
. . . So what has happened to that $1.8 trillion?
The advance payments have all been spent.
In short, instead of contributing to our own retirement security, we’re simply being robbed … to the tune of $1.8 trillion so far, and millionaires and billionaires are the ones profiting as a result. That, to put it mildly, is the bad news.
The good news is, Greenspan’s comments have led people to connect the dots at a propitious time — a presidential election year. Now that the ugly truth has reared its head in the New York Times and Washington Post op-ed pages, it’s almost certain to find its way into the stump speeches of Democrats nationwide.
Often, the importance of an issue to voters depends on how clearly its meaning comes across to them. The ongoing search for unconventional weapons in Iraq was a fuzzy concept to many people until you had David Kay on TV saying, “We were all wrong.” Similarly, abstractions like federal deficits, entitlement reform, and tax progressivity get a lot more real when you can point out, “You’re paying 50% extra in Social Security taxes so millionaires can keep their huge tax cuts.”
I’d like to see that line become part of the repertoire for every Democrat running for the White House or Congress in November — and I’d like to hear every one of them challenging their Republican opponents as to whether they really support that policy. I have a feeling that might just happen.