To the Editor:
William Greider’s essay, “Looting Social Security” (March 2 issue), grossly misrepresents Pete Peterson and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s views on Social Security reform and overlooks some large and inescapable truths.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have charged everything to the nation’s credit card, including tax cuts and spending increases, without paying for them. Washington’s imprudent, unethical and even immoral behavior is facilitated by a lack of transparency and accountability. As of September 30, 2008, the federal government was in a $56 trillion-plus fiscal hole based on the official financial consolidated statements of the US government. This amount is equal to $483,000 per household and $184,000 per American. Left unchecked, this burden rises every year by $6,600 to $9,900 per person, even with a balanced federal budget.
The nation’s bedrock social safety programs, Medicare and Social Security, are not in danger of being looted–they already have been looted. The federal government already has spent any related surplus and replaced it with non-marketable IOUs that aren’t even considered liabilities by the federal government. In addition, Medicare is already drawing down on these IOUs and Social Security will start doing so within ten years.
Mr. Greider is correct in saying that the government will have to repay what it borrows from Social Security–but how will it do so, and what level of tax burdens will be required to meet our growing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid obligations without fundamental reforms?
As a former Comptroller General of the United States from 1998 to 2008 and a former public trustee of Social Security and Medicare, I share Pete Peterson’s deep commitment to preserving a strong, sustainable safety net for all Americans, including seniors. And contrary to the impression that one could draw from Mr. Greider’s essay, Pete and I both support the concept of a sound, defined-benefit program for Social Security supplemented by additional automatic savings accounts for individuals.
At the same time, Pete and I also believe that the process one employs is critically important when transformational changes are needed. We have sadly concluded that the “regular order” in Congress is broken and that achieving progress on multiple fronts within a short timeframe is not possible on a piecemeal basis.