Congress and the White House appear poised for another round of fiscal roulette, with both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue putting their chips on red and each side betting they’ll “win” by drawing blood from the other. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, this “kill ‘em all” approach ends badly for everyone involved … most of all the American people.
With people’s faith in government hovering at rock bottom lows, Washington D.C. is in desperate need of a new paradigm. We can do better than this. We owe it to our children, our constituents, and ourselves to be better than this. Our president and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle need to stop playing political small ball and aspire for something more meaningful.
Saving Social Security for the next 75 years seems a good place to start. Social Security is one of the most popular government programs in our nation’s history. Millions of seniors have relied on it and millions more will depend on it in the future. But unless we act, those seniors—and our children and grandchildren—will be left without much security at all. Not only do I believe saving Social Security is possible today, I believe it’s essential. And such a “bold” solution to our fiscal infighting is possible for a variety of reasons:
1. What other genuine options do they have? Both parties need a face-saving path out of this Hatfield and McCoy political logjam. The president saying he’s not willing to negotiate on these important fiscal matters defies logic, as does some conservatives’ expectations that the president is willing to sign a law repealing his hallmark legislative accomplishment.
If we act responsibly, each chamber and branch would have plenty to crow about and ample credit to take. This wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be a zero-sum process. The American people should have their government work for them, not solely against the opposing political party. This is a window of time and a policy area where it actually could.
2. The problems and potential solutions are well known and relatively straightforward. Virtually every economist and politician acknowledges Social Security’s long-term financial condition is worsening by the day and the longer we wait the more difficult and expensive the solutions will be. Developing a solution to preserve the relatively walled-garden of Social Security will require hard choices, but it can and should yield a bipartisan result.
3. If not now, when? A year from now (during an election year)? Two years? Six months before the trust fund is depleted? Sticking our heads in the sand and waiting until it’s a crisis is not leadership; it doesn’t even pass for governance. Playing chicken with the fund going insolvent is not a viable option. The Social Security Disability Income account will be broke in three years. The full trust fund will be depleted in twenty and each new forecast paints a worse picture than the one before it.
4. Under divided government, during a president’s final term, with a critical deadline that both parties need to navigate is precisely the environment for this to be possible. It’s never going to be “the right time” to act. There will always be the “after the next election when we control the government” pipe dream for both political parties. Social Security wasn’t secured under George W. Bush when Republicans controlled Congress. Nor was it put on solid footing during the first two years of President Obama’s administration when Democrats controlled Washington. Both parties fear this issue. But if members of both parties step forward together and conscientiously adjust a few elements of the program it can be secured for generations.
Responsibly shoring up Social Security presents a viable, constructive path out of the debt limit debacle, preserves one of our most crucial safety nets, and gives the financial markets, credit rating agencies, and the American people a glimmer of hope that Washington D.C. isn’t two steps away from becoming a marble-adorned banana republic.
Uncertainty is bad for everyone. Let’s quickly rise to the challenge of this unique moment and eliminate $9.6 trillion of uncertainty from Social Security’s balance sheet in the process. If this town truly laid its swords down for merely 15 days we could keep one of our most beloved and critical national institutions in place for generations to come and show the world that we still can get a job done.