Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Kinder And Gentler Call To Cut Social Security Benefits

In today's Washington Post (well now yesterday's), the intelligent and articulate Catherine Rampell weighs in on cutting Social Security benefits, and also probably Medicare benefits as well, in a column entitled, "Kids' shrinking share."  She bases her argument on a new report from the Urban Institute by Eugene Steuerle.  The thrust of this report is that the share of government spending at all levels, although also at each one individually, that goes to children will be shrinking in the future.  This is almost certainly the case, and Rampell recognizes that a major reason for it is that the ratio of old people in the population to children in numbers is going to rise.  However, she asserts without providing any evidence of it that this decline in share for children will be even worse than what will be implied by this population change, which she recognizes.  While she does not come out fully and explicitly to say it, she strongly implies that this shift should be held back by cutting those benefits to those nasty and selfish old people, given that of course raising taxes is simply out of the question.

This of course puts her in line with what has been a solid party line for the Washington Post editorial page.  One simply does not find columns by people like Dean Baker who shred all this nonsense quite thoroughly (although I think they did let him on there once).   Instead we get this steady drumbeat, often brought up in columns that are barely related to the subject, from Fred Hiatt, Robert Samuelson, and Ruth Marcus, with occasional others pitching in.  Now Catherine Rampell joins the chorus, throwing in guilt trips about deprived children without two live-in parents and who are ethnic or racial minorities, against a bunch of married old white farts, along with her being a loudly self-proclaiming millennial.  As it is, I fear that we shall continue to see this line pushed as WaPo seems to be moving right politically since Jeff Bezos bought it from the Meyer-Graham-Weymouth clan.  Bezos is a libertarian and has recently appointed a publisher who used to advise Ronald Reagan, and he is not Bruce Bartlett.  So, Hiatt and crew will probably try to keep the dogs of pushing the ed page even further right at bay by pointing out their wonderful credentials at trying to cut those "entitlements" that are so awful.

Now, Rampell does make an excellent point later in her column that the more serious danger for children in the future is coming from state and local governments, where we have seen lots of cuts in spending for children, particularly for education, in the recent years of recession and slow recovery.  And she probably accurately sees little effort to be put forth to undo the past cuts, and with old retirees in many communities, maybe even more cuts.  This is a real issue, but has nothing to do with federal payments for Social Security and Medicare, although if all those states resisting expanding Medicaid would get off their inane partisan opposition to doing so, we could see some expansion of support for poorer children in particular for something very important.

Indeed, I suspect that Rampell does not get the con game being pulled by all the VSPs on the sucker millennials.  They keep being sold this bill of goods that since there is this danger that somewhere down the road there might be a cut in their future benefits from Social Security, by gosh by gum they must have those future benefits cut now, since we all know there will be no cuts for current beneficiaries (or for those likely to become beneficiaries pretty soon).  All the proposals for cuts by GOPsters have been very loudly proclaimed not to mess with current beneficiaries.  They are all for the future benefits of those millennials and some of the Gen-Xers, although exactly where the cut comes in the age distribution depends on whose proposal one looks at.

In any case, there is a complete disconnect here.  Cuts in benefits for old people, even if they are done now to current recipients, will be at the federal level, while the worst cuts for children are happening at the state and local levels.  So cutting those benefits may not help the kids at all.  What is needed is to increase spending for children at all levels, not to cut benefits for old people. If this implies tax increases, well, most polls show that the public in fact supports tax increases for such things.

Barkley Rosser

Later Note:  I previously described Eugene Steuerle as a former CBO Director.  That was inaccuate and has been removed.  He has previously been at both Brookings and AEI.  He also was part of putting together the 1986 tax simplification during the Reagan adminstration.  I thank Bruce Bartlett for correcting me on this matter, who was also involved in that, I think.  In any case, for anybody who does not know, Bartlett is a former Reagan Treasury official who is now highly critical of most Republican policy proposals.


Bruce Webb said...

Barkley it is simpler than that.

A fundamental part of the Republican Party platform for decades now has been to deny ANY federal role in education and to demand the disestablishment of the Education Department and by extension all federal funding for public schools. That is they argue that the single largest piece of federal funding for kids be eliminated outright. To have them turn around and decry a dropping ratio of spending on the young vs the old doesn't rise to the level of hypocrisy. It is too incoherent for that. said...

Well, Rampell is not a Republican, and I do not think she decries spending by the Dept. of Education, but her weak argument certainly plays into their hands on Social Security.

I would, however, say that Steuerle, whose report she drew on, is a more complicated matter. While he has long played the centrist technocrat type, it is my understanding that he is ultimately a Republican, if a somewhat more moderate one than most these days.