The Crisis President Finds No Issues with Social Security

President Obama, if nothing else, is a prolific discoverer of crises. In the short space of nineteen months, we have had a health care crisis, economic crisis, swine flu crisis, housing crisis, banking crisis, auto industry crisis, financial regulatory crisis, global warming climate change crisis, Gulf oil spill crisis, mortgage crisis, deep-water drilling crisis, teacher layoff crisis, and of course, the lack-of-freshly-paved-roads crisis, aptly addressed by the Stimulus bill.

So how did the Christopher Columbus of crisis discovery respond to a question about Social Security? The 75-year-old government-run program is now dishing out more than it collects. With promised payouts approximately $17 trillion above expected revenues, Social Security is roughly 340 times more dire than Bernie Madoff's massive -- and recently defunct -- Ponzi scheme.

"Here's the thing," Obama said when asked about privatizing Social Security by a woman in the audience. "Social Security is not in crisis." [Emphasis added.]

Of course not. The man who finds crisis in a health care system with an 89% approval rating sees little wrong with a bankrupt government program whose fiscal outlays could swallow the economy whole.

And Obama is not alone. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid frequently refers to Social Security as "the most successful social program in the history of the world." (Does that make Madoff the proprietor of the world's second-greatest social program?)

The truth is that Social Security is in crisis. Obama knows that; so does Reid. But the "crisis" of huge midterm election losses seems more urgent to the president and Majority Leader.

Denial is good politics when it comes to Social Security. So good, in fact, that Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) can hardly find a defender in all of Congress for his fiscal Roadmap, part of which calls for individual retirement accounts. Ryan's candor about the pending entitlement-induced bankruptcy makes him a lonely guy in Washington, D.C.

Ryan may be the domestic fiscal-policy equivalent to early-1930s Winston Churchill. Churchill was laughed out of prominence for his perceived warmongering ways. Enamored of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's promises of "peace in our time," politicos and citizens alike wrote off Churchill's warnings. In time, Churchill was proven right. We look back now, puzzled at how an entire country failed to recognize the gathering threats of 1930s Europe.

For a more recent example, the tech and housing bubbles also illustrate the path we're on. Once those markets fell apart, leaving the economy in recession and voiding trillions in expected investment returns, Americans universally wondered how we missed the signs of impending collapse. Ignoring such indicators appears to be a recurring event.

Ironically, Social Security's imminent demise is even more predictable than economic collapses of the past decade. The retirement program's problems have been documented for generations. In his famous "Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan said of the so-called Social Security trust fund:

There is no fund, because Robert Byers, the actuarial head, appeared before a congressional committee and admitted that Social Security as of this moment is 298 billion dollars in the hole.

(Ah, the good ol' days, when Ronald Reagan was alive and well, and $298 billion was a shocking amount of government debt.)

Nearly fifty years later, the program's shortfall is an order of magnitude worse, and yet few politicians will even hint at a problem (as with any other federal entitlement). But neither fearful nor disingenuous politicians will alter reality. The promises will come due. What then?

America's fiscal situation draws comparisons to Greece's recent collapse. Really? Greece? The Greek gross domestic product is $356 billion. Wal-Mart, a single U.S. company, reported revenue of $414 billion last year. The difference between the United States and Greece is roughly similar to the difference between an atom bomb and a firecracker.

But the president assures us that "Social Security is not in crisis," thus guaranteeing that the situation will worsen at least as long as he occupies the Oval Office. If it were possible to enter Obama's words into a political truth translator, we might find that he's saying, "Social Security's shortfall is not a crisis that we can exploit for political advantage."

The Democrats are hiding behind false crises to pass a host of legislation that Americans don't want. Now they hope that ignoring a true crisis will help reelect a host of politicians whom Americans don't want. If that tactic succeeds this November, we may be tempted to call it...a crisis.

Joseph Ashby is an author in the forthcoming Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation, compiled by Jonah Goldberg.
President Obama, if nothing else, is a prolific discoverer of crises. In the short space of nineteen months, we have had a health care crisis, economic crisis, swine flu crisis, housing crisis, banking crisis, auto industry crisis, financial regulatory crisis, global warming climate change crisis, Gulf oil spill crisis, mortgage crisis, deep-water drilling crisis, teacher layoff crisis, and of course, the lack-of-freshly-paved-roads crisis, aptly addressed by the Stimulus bill.

So how did the Christopher Columbus of crisis discovery respond to a question about Social Security? The 75-year-old government-run program is now dishing out more than it collects. With promised payouts approximately $17 trillion above expected revenues, Social Security is roughly 340 times more dire than Bernie Madoff's massive -- and recently defunct -- Ponzi scheme.

"Here's the thing," Obama said when asked about privatizing Social Security by a woman in the audience. "Social Security is not in crisis." [Emphasis added.]

Of course not. The man who finds crisis in a health care system with an 89% approval rating sees little wrong with a bankrupt government program whose fiscal outlays could swallow the economy whole.

And Obama is not alone. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid frequently refers to Social Security as "the most successful social program in the history of the world." (Does that make Madoff the proprietor of the world's second-greatest social program?)

The truth is that Social Security is in crisis. Obama knows that; so does Reid. But the "crisis" of huge midterm election losses seems more urgent to the president and Majority Leader.

Denial is good politics when it comes to Social Security. So good, in fact, that Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) can hardly find a defender in all of Congress for his fiscal Roadmap, part of which calls for individual retirement accounts. Ryan's candor about the pending entitlement-induced bankruptcy makes him a lonely guy in Washington, D.C.

Ryan may be the domestic fiscal-policy equivalent to early-1930s Winston Churchill. Churchill was laughed out of prominence for his perceived warmongering ways. Enamored of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's promises of "peace in our time," politicos and citizens alike wrote off Churchill's warnings. In time, Churchill was proven right. We look back now, puzzled at how an entire country failed to recognize the gathering threats of 1930s Europe.

For a more recent example, the tech and housing bubbles also illustrate the path we're on. Once those markets fell apart, leaving the economy in recession and voiding trillions in expected investment returns, Americans universally wondered how we missed the signs of impending collapse. Ignoring such indicators appears to be a recurring event.

Ironically, Social Security's imminent demise is even more predictable than economic collapses of the past decade. The retirement program's problems have been documented for generations. In his famous "Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan said of the so-called Social Security trust fund:

There is no fund, because Robert Byers, the actuarial head, appeared before a congressional committee and admitted that Social Security as of this moment is 298 billion dollars in the hole.

(Ah, the good ol' days, when Ronald Reagan was alive and well, and $298 billion was a shocking amount of government debt.)

Nearly fifty years later, the program's shortfall is an order of magnitude worse, and yet few politicians will even hint at a problem (as with any other federal entitlement). But neither fearful nor disingenuous politicians will alter reality. The promises will come due. What then?

America's fiscal situation draws comparisons to Greece's recent collapse. Really? Greece? The Greek gross domestic product is $356 billion. Wal-Mart, a single U.S. company, reported revenue of $414 billion last year. The difference between the United States and Greece is roughly similar to the difference between an atom bomb and a firecracker.

But the president assures us that "Social Security is not in crisis," thus guaranteeing that the situation will worsen at least as long as he occupies the Oval Office. If it were possible to enter Obama's words into a political truth translator, we might find that he's saying, "Social Security's shortfall is not a crisis that we can exploit for political advantage."

The Democrats are hiding behind false crises to pass a host of legislation that Americans don't want. Now they hope that ignoring a true crisis will help reelect a host of politicians whom Americans don't want. If that tactic succeeds this November, we may be tempted to call it...a crisis.

Joseph Ashby is an author in the forthcoming Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation, compiled by Jonah Goldberg.

RECENT VIDEOS