Mudslinging not sticking

Posted: Apr 26, 2005 12:00 AM
Congressional Democrats, their allies in liberal media outlets, and left-leaning groups like the AARP and NAACP are losing their war of negative rhetoric and distortion against restructuring Social Security. A March 30 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found that 60 percent of Americans favor giving individuals the choice to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in stocks or mutual funds. In the same poll, 54 percent were concerned that the current system will not have enough money to pay them their full benefits when they retire.

Each week liberals find a new mud ball to throw at President Bush?s plan to restructure Social Security, and each week they are forced to regroup and change their tactics when they find it does not stick. Their first mud ball was to charge the president with scaring the public into thinking the program faces a fiscal crisis. Even when the Social Security Trustees issued a report in late March stating that the program was in worse fiscal straits than earlier predicted, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated, ?In reality, the program is on solid ground for decades to come.?

Liberals? second mud ball was an attempt to scare off support for Bush?s plan by citing the enormous transition costs the government would incur. The popular figure cited to enact the plan was $2 trillion. The transition costs, however, were proved to be a myth. Since there are no tangible assets in the Social Security Trust Fund, because Congress has already spent the money, Congress will have to look elsewhere to fund both current benefits and the programs it funds with surplus payroll tax revenues.

According to Edward Prescott, the 2004 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, moving to a system of optional personal retirement accounts would merely require re-labeling the debt that exists in the so-called Trust Fund. In other words, the government will not have to borrow one penny of new money to enact personal retirement accounts.

When that mudslinging did not stick, liberals turned to their age-old favorite tactic ? scare people. In recent weeks, they have tried to scare those receiving survivor and disability benefits into believing that a personal accounts option would necessitate a cut in their benefits. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) wrote in an editorial, ?What about the nearly 7 million workers with disabilities and their dependents who currently rely on Social Security disability benefits, often for 100 percent of their income??

The answer to that question is easy ? nothing will change for them. The president has stated on numerous occasions that he will not sign legislation that cuts benefits for survivors and the disabled. The two bills introduced in the Senate to provide personal retirement accounts, by Senator John Sununu (R-NH) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), leave survivor and disability benefits fully intact.

The latest mud ball heaved at personal retirement accounts is to shift attention toward health disparities between blacks and whites, away from the undeniable differences in life expectancy.

Bush has spent much of his tour through the country explaining to African-Americans the fact that the current Social Security structure is disproportionately damaging to them. Simply put, blacks on average do not live as long as whites, so the average black man or woman will not receive the same amount of benefits as the average white man or woman. Making the problem worse, many blacks do not have enough disposable income after taxes are paid and necessities are met to contribute to a separate retirement plan.

Black leaders in the Democratic Party are furious that Bush would raise these important facts. Representative Mel Watt (D-NC), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said of Bush?s attempt to educate African-Americans, ?If the president and GOP leaders were truly concerned about the life expectancy issue, they would bring the caucus's minority health bill to the floor for a vote.?

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) stated, ?The notion that we would cynically use those disparities as a rationale for dismantling Social Security as opposed to talking about how are we going to close the health disparities gap that exists, and make sure that African-American life expectancy is as long as the rest of this nation ... is stunning to me.?

Black Democrats apparently believe that enacting a new government program will allow African-Americans to live longer. Now that?s stunning to me.

In truth, Social Security has never been a good deal for African-Americans. In 1935 when Social Security was established, the original retirement age to begin receiving benefits was set at 65 years. Black women in 1935 lived to an average age of 55, and black men to the age of 51. The retirement age for someone retiring this year is 66, yet the current average life expectancy for a black male is 68.

It is clear that the Social Security program?s fiscal insolvency is a problem we must fix immediately. Yet, liberals would rather muddy the debate over the best solutions by denying the problem exists and scaring seniors and the disabled.

It is time for the opponents of restructuring Social Security to stop the mudslinging, distortions, and distractions. Though they never tire of slinging mud at common sense solutions, their intent in this debate is perfectly clear. The next election is simply more important to them than the next generation.

Herman Cain is chief executive of The New Voice, Inc. and New Voters Alliance, and host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show "The Bottom Line with Herman Cain." He is past chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and past chairman and chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, Inc.