Tuesday's election gave expression to a deep frustration that Washington is not listening to Main Street. This frustration seems reasonable after reading the tin-eared response to the elections penned by former OMB Director Peter Orszag, in his recent opinion piece with its fear-mongering title, "Saving Social Security."
Social Security is not in need of saving. It is the most fiscally responsible part of the entire federal budget. Its benefits are modest, averaging less than the minimum wage. It is extremely efficient, returning in benefits more than 99 cents of every dollar spent. At its most expensive, when the Baby Boom generation is fully retired, Social Security will cost half as much, in terms of percentage of GDP, that France, Germany and many other countries are paying for their counterpart programs right now, today. Its projected deficit, still decades away, is manageable in size - just 0.7 percent of GDP, about the same amount as extending the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans. (Paradoxically, Orszag recently penned a piece advocating the extension of those tax cuts )
Modest though Social Security's benefits are, they are vitally important to the millions of Americans for whom they provide a small measure of economic security. Consistent with their importance and modest size, poll after poll has demonstrated that huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans and self-identified Tea Partiers, categorically reject cutting Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age.
Members of 215 national and state-based organizations of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, representing over 50 million Americans, want a serious discussion about Social Security. But unlike Orszag, we want it in the sunshine, with the input of the American people, not behind closed doors by a commission whose members are primarily wealthy elites who seem closer to Wall Street than Main Street.
It is time for the President to assure the people that he is listening, that he hears them loud and clear, that he truly believes in government in the sunshine, and that he understands that he works for them. Americans don't want Social Security "saved" by cutting guaranteed benefits that people have earned through hard work. If the President's advisers are whispering in his ear that he should defy the will of the people concerning Social Security, and champion a backroom deal that cuts Social Security, they are giving him bad advice, which the American people are not likely to forget when they return to the polls in two years.