Spiraling toward bankruptcy

The posturing and antagonizing from congressional Democrats has been so over the top lately, political discourse has all the drama and suspense of a professional wrestling match.

Disingenuous theatrics play well to the Internet-addicted liberals who make cyberspace roar with approval following every verbal body slam, no matter how flawed or predictable the rhetoric might be. So Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who told voters only three years ago that he was “independent like Nevada,” checks his e-mail daily for marching orders from the pasty spammers at MoveOn.org, then steps in front of the microphones and makes like the Undertaker.

Take Sen. Reid’s response to a Treasury Department report on Social Security. The document, released Monday, said the federal government has promised $13.6 trillion worth of benefits to young workers that it won’t be able to pay. Absent wholesale reforms to the entitlement, the only way to make Social Security permanently solvent is to impose some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts.

Economists and government agencies from the Federal Reserve to the Government Accountability Office have been warning as much on an almost weekly basis. Beyond quantifying Social Security’s funding deficit, the report’s findings aren’t surprising.

President Bush, having abandoned his 2005 proposal to let younger workers put a portion of their Social Security withholdings into private investment accounts, reiterated that he is opposed to increasing taxes. Which gave Sen. Reid the opportunity to engage in rabid speculation.

“The administration’s new report is a reminder of President Bush’s determination to not only privatize Social Security, but to make deep cuts in the benefits that American workers have earned,” Sen. Reid said. “Nobody should be fooled into believing that the only way to save Social Security is to destroy it with privatization or deep benefit cuts.”

It is precisely this kind of shrill exaggeration that derailed the president’s reform proposal. By frightening current beneficiaries into thinking they’d be cut off, Democrats mobilized senior citizens against the idea. Then and now, no current reform would affect those who are already receiving Social Security checks.

But deception has always been the Democrats’ trump card in blocking Social Security reform. Sen. Reid and Co. argue that American workers “have earned” their Social Security benefits, as though their paycheck withholdings have been flowing into a numbered account, accumulating interest until retirement. If that were truly the case, Democrats should fully support the diversion of some payroll taxes into private investment accounts. It wouldn’t impact current beneficiaries because they’re only collecting what they put in all those years ago.

But Sen. Reid knows Social Security is unsustainable in its current form. It takes money from current workers and gives it to retirees. Congress borrows from the entitlement every year. And the fastest way to “destroy” Social Security is for Sen. Reid to make sure nothing changes.

Sen. Reid can rip the president all he wants. But at least President Bush has attempted to address a pressing domestic challenge. At least he acknowledged that American workers age 40 and younger stand to get nothing from the federal government after a lifetime of paying to support everyone else. What has Sen. Reid proposed? What do he and his party stand for when it comes to fixing entitlement programs that threaten to bankrupt the country?

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