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Math: Despite Political Posturing, Social Security Insolvency Dates Creeps Even Closer

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Let's make one thing clear from the outset: We've been beating the drum on unfunded liabilities, long-term debt, and entitlement reform for well over a decade, during presidencies of both political parties.  Ignoring this massive problem, as many in the political establishment choose to do for their own selfish reasons, is electorally advantageous in the short term, but disgraceful malpractice in the long term.  

A few days ago, Social Security's trustees announced that the program's cash shortfall will arrive a year earlier than previously projected:

Reserves for Social Security’s largest trust fund are on track to run out as soon as 2033, a board of trustees of the program’s accounts said in a report on Friday. The estimate is one year sooner than previously projected for the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays out Social Security benefits to retirees, in the trustees’ report from last year. If the reserves are depleted, the report projected income for the account would only cover 77 percent of scheduled benefits...The retirement and disability trust funds together could cover 100 percent of total scheduled benefits until 2034, according to the report, one year sooner than the board previously reported. If both funds are depleted before Congress can act to replenish them, the government would only be able to cover 80 percent of scheduled benefits to retirees and disabled beneficiaries...The total projected cost of the program started exceeding its total income in 2021, the board said, and that trend is expected to continue this year and in subsequent years. 

Absent needed reforms, the math only gets worse from here.  According to the government bookkeepers, Medicare's insolvency threshold is coming even sooner.  Republicans have attempted in the past to ameliorate these problems by proposing modest reforms that would only affect future seniors, but they've largely abandoned the project.  Democrats aggressively, recklessly and dishonestly demagogue any effort to even discuss needed reforms as an 'attack' on seniors through draconian 'cuts.'  A few weeks ago, Sen. Mitt Romney took a Biden administration official to task over this issue, which reminds me of similar pitiful posturing from senior members of the Obama administration:

The fiscal iceberg is in full view, and nearly all of the people in charge are either unwilling to do anything to avoid it, or prize political expediency above all else, hence the many delusional assertions -- including calls on the Left to expand both faltering programs.  While conservatives used to be leaders in the reality-based and pro-math push to save Medicare and Social Security from collapse, the leading Republican 2024 presidential candidate is running attacks against his closest would-be rival over his conservative voting record on these issues.  If you squint and ignore the 'paid for' disclaimer at the end, this is totally indistinguishable from a full-bore Democratic hit:

The DNC's rapid response director amplified and applauded the "good" attack on DeSantis, which regurgitates Democratic talking points, while also highlighting Trump's incoherence on the issue.  It's worth noting that these same attacks were launched against DeSantis by his establishment-backed primary opponent in 2018, and even left-leaning Politifact flagged them as misleading.  Trump himself promised in 2016 that he'd eliminate the national debt, which of course he did not even come close to accomplishing, instead massively increasing the debt with the help of Congress over his four years in office.  While he campaigned against entitlement reform, he also refused to rule out changes to the programs during a potential second term.  The spot above, run by a Trump-aligned PAC, warns that DeSantis "even voted to raise the retirement age to 70" for future Social Security beneficiaries, as if that's some unimaginably radical idea.  Guess who explicitly supported the same idea in his book?

Trump proposed a number of solutions, first an age of seventy for the retirement age. "A firm limit at age seventy makes sense for people now under forty," Trump writes. "We're living longer. We're working longer. New medicines are extending healthy human life. Besides, how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?" "The way the workweek is going, it will probably be down to about twenty-five hours by then anyway," he continues. "This is a sacrifice I think we all can make. And I don't accept the criticism that it's easy for guys like me to tell thirty-year-olds they shouldn't retire until they're seventy...Next, Trump says privatization is the answer. "Privatization would be good for all of us. As it stands today, 13.6 percent of women on Social Security live in poverty," Trump writes. "Harvard University researchers studied almost two thousand American women who retired in 1981 and found that virtually every woman—single, divorced , married , or widowed— would probably be better off financially under a system of fully private investment accounts."

These are reasonable arguments that could and should be debated. It's just pretty amazing to see Trumpworld assailing DeSantis for votes that align with ideas Trump himself has espoused. Will Republican voters buy this stuff? Will they similarly buy Team Trump's claims that DeSantis was a "shutdown governor" during COVID, especially considering the track record of the people Trump consequentially obeyed and empowered during his presidency?  Along the same lines, does anyone inside the Trump operation hesitate -- even for a moment -- before going after DeSantis over a 2015 Congressional endorsement from John Bolton, considering that Trump subsequently named Bolton to one of the highest-ranking national security posts in the country?

For what it's worth, with an expected DeSantis announcement still a few months away, Trump has opened up a large nationwide lead in the 2024 GOP primary, as the party rallies around him against Alvin Bragg's abuses in New York.  Some of the national polling shows a close race, with DeSantis tied or ahead in number of key states.  Let's see how all of the numbers look in the early fall, after debates and full-blown campaigning.  I'll leave you with the footnote that former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has decided, for some reason, to run for president.

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