Sunday, May 01, 2005

Who is Social Security For?

By promising to guarantee social security benefits for lower income seniors, President Bush is really pushing the Democrats to clarify their convictions on the issue. After all, as long as no senior is living in poverty, aren’t we as a society doing our job?

John Tierney, writing for yesterday’s New York Time, makes several excellent points:

As a poverty-fighting program, Social Security is woefully inefficient because most of the money goes to people who aren't poor. It would take just 20 percent of what Social Security dispenses to move every elderly American out of poverty, according to June O'Neill, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office…

[T]he elderly poor are different from the younger poor. For one thing, they're more likely to vote, a fact not lost on even the most hardhearted Republican. They also arouse much more public sympathy. Kicking 25-year-olds off welfare was popular because it was thought to be good for them. Nobody claims that forcing that widow to eat cat food will build character.

That's why even the most ardent free-marketeers are not trying to eliminate the safety net for the elderly. The libertarians at the Cato Institute are trying to strengthen it with a proposal that has been introduced by Republicans in Congress. If your individual account left you with a paltry pension, their plan would guarantee you a subsidy to lift you above the poverty line - and well above what many retirees are now getting from Social Security.

Are the Democrats fighting for the common man or just fighting for their legacy? The last thing the Democrats need is for the Republicans to be the party credited with doing more to help the poor.


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