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EDITORIAL: Biden plays a cynical game with Social Security

President Joe Biden is sacrificing the fiscal health of the country for a few points of political popularity.

Heading into his all-but-announced 2024 re-election bid, Mr. Biden’s personal popularity remains low. That’s a problem but not an insurmountable one. He needs only to be more popular than his opponent. That is where Mr. Biden and his advisers see an opportunity.

Various Republican lawmakers have expressed a desire to reform Social Security, although Speaker Kevin McCarthy isn’t seeking entitlement reforms in the ongoing debt ceiling standoff. Mr. Biden has unleashed fierce political attacks on this point, accusing Republicans of wanting to take away benefits and gut the program.

This is dishonest scaremongering, but it’s par for the course. Such attacks often work and make it more difficult to have a rational discussion of how to deal with the entitlement crisis.

The most prominent Republican reform plan calls for gradually increasing the retirement age and limiting future benefits for wealthy retirees. It wouldn’t make changes for current retirees or those nearing retirement. Yet Mr. Biden has been content to attack GOP calls for changes without offering an alternative.

Mr. Biden’s strategy relies on presenting a false choice — that the two options are leaving the status quo intact or adopting the GOP plan. But the current system isn’t sustainable. Social Security is paying out more than it takes in. The program’s trust funds are projected to run dry within a decade.

Doing nothing will trigger a cut in benefits of more than 20 percent — for current and future retirees. So while Mr. Biden presents himself as Social Security’s champion, he supports continuing down a path that dramatically reduces benefits.

It’s possible that, rather than pass vital reforms, a craven Congress will sanction the government paying Social Security benefits out of the general treasury. That will require a combination of tax hikes, massive deficit spending, printing money and benefit reductions.

None of those options will be pleasant. The country is experiencing the harmful effects of inflation caused in large part by excessive government spending. Ramping up the Treasury’s printing presses risks driving inflation higher. Higher taxes and more deficit spending would be a drag on the economy, further pushing the debt to unfathomable levels. Benefit cuts would reduce the income of retirees.

There are no options without significant trade-offs. But acting now can help minimize the need for dramatic change.

Statesmen put the good of the country first. Cynical politicians prioritize their short-term popularity over the long-term needs of the country. Mr. Biden has made it obvious where he stands.

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