April 15, 2005
Clinton would have saved Social SecurityBy Noel Sheppard
Isn't it amazing how many wonderful things former President William Jefferson Clinton would have done for this world if it weren't for the Uncalled—For Meddling of Special Prosecutor Ken Starr?
The most recent such revelation suggests that Mr. Clinton would have reformed Social Security in his second term if he had not been distracted by those dastardly and unnecessary impeachment proceedings. Such are the proclamations in a San Francisco Chronicle front—page story entitled "Social Security rehab died first under Clinton.'
To begin with, the Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead states that saving Social Security from imminent insolvency was a key initiative of the Clinton administration:
''It would be unconscionable if we failed to act,' President Bill Clinton said at a forum in 1998, when he made fixing the nation's retirement program a top priority of his second term.'
Top priority? In his 1998 State of the Union address, Mr. Clinton spent three paragraphs on Social Security out of a total of 140. That's less than two minutes of an hour and a half speech. Is that how much time a president devotes to his top priority?
That said here was the crux of his solution presented to the nation that evening:
'Tonight, I propose that we reserve 100 percent of the surplus — that's every penny of any surplus — until we have taken all the necessary measures to strengthen the Social Security system for the 21st century.'
In his 1999 SOTU address, Clinton 'increased' his focus on this 'top priority' by committing ten out of 160 paragraphs to this issue, offering basically the same solution:
'Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do.'
In reality, both of these proposals were red herrings, and would have had a negligible impact on Social Security's imminent insolvency if enacted. Why? Because in the four years that our nation was supposed to be in the midst of budget surpluses 'as far as the eye can see,' the actual on—budget surpluses totaled $25.9 billion. That's it. The other $533.4 billion worth of reported unified budget surpluses during this four—year period emanated directly from off—budget trust accounts —— mostly Social Security.
Given this, Mr. Clinton's fabulous idea was to allocate budget surpluses to Social Security that were largely already in the Social Security trust. On the streets of Manhattan, this is widely referred to as a 'Three Card Monty.'
However, the most uproarious solution to this imminent crisis offered by our 42nd president came in his 2000 SOTU address wherein he committed only one sentence of his entire speech to this 'top priority':
'Tonight, I ask you to work with me to make a bipartisan down payment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security Trust Fund so that it will be strong and sound for the next 50 years.'
What makes this so hysterical, and somewhat insulting? Well, because there never was any debt reduction during Mr. Clinton's second term. In fact, contrary to Democratic assertions and public opinion, the last year that America's gross federal debt declined was 1969. As such, there wouldn't have been any interest savings, and, therefore, wouldn't have been one penny credited to the Social Security trust under this proposal.
I would venture a guess that, like most Americans, Ms. Lochhead was not aware of this fact. Moreover, though she suggests, as her article continues, that it was questions about Monica Lewinsky which distracted the President from keeping his focus on Social Security reform, nowhere does she address military attacks in Kosovo as the real source of this distraction.
Instead, she conveniently chooses to omit that many people at the time felt that Clinton intentionally used problems in Kosovo and the need for U.S. involvement as a smokescreen to divert the public's attention away from his sexual indiscretions. Remember the movie Wag The Dog, Carolyn?
Former Clinton advisor Dick Morris has proffered on many occasions the real truth that the left conveniently ignores about this issue. In his view as a high—profile member of the Clinton team, the primary reason the administration moved away from any serious discussion of Social Security reform was because Clinton was advised by top Democratic leaders that he would be doing his party a huge disservice if he repaired a problem that they all needed to be able to campaign on every two years.
Of course, another truly delicious snippet of hypocrisy rests with the following obvious question that appears to have eluded Ms. Lochhead and her ilk: If Clinton was so prescient seven years ago with his concerns regarding America's largest retirement program, why are today's Democrats trying to convince the American people that President Bush is inventing a problem that doesn't really exist?
Or, did Social Security become financially solvent the very moment Al Gore lost in 2000?
Noel Sheppard is an economist and writer residing in Northern California. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.