Ashley Carson, OWL Executive Director,  Guest Blogger
Today, the fiscal commission met to discuss how to bring our country’s finances under control, and again the conversation led directly to Social Security.  This is always shocking because Social Security did not contribute a penny to our current financial woes.  Instead, Social Security has created an enormous surplus that we have invested in US Treasury bonds, and the money was used to pay for many things we needed as a country, but also many things we didn’t need as a country. Someday, our debt obligation on those treasury bonds will come due in order to cover scheduled Social Security benefits.  It’s not a complicated process, just as putting money in a savings account at your local bank is not rocket science.   For decades, we, the American people, have paid our Social Security taxes diligently.  So much so, that a whole lot more money went into the Social Security program than was being used to pay out benefits.  This is where the word surplus comes in.  The surplus, or the extra pile of cash in the Social Security trust fund, was invested in bonds to be repaid when we needed them to pay out Social Security benefits.   If you were making so much more money in your monthly budget than you were paying out in bills, you would likely put the extra in a savings account or invest it in some type of interest bearing financial product.  Bonds, as you might learn in finance 101, are one of the safest and most secure long-term investment products.  This is exactly what we did with the Social Security surplus.  You would expect that when your bond came due, you would collect your original investment plus a little interest.  The problem is, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform talks about Social Security as if the American public doesn’t understand this process and instead continues to make the case that Social Security is facing a pending crisis.  They claim that Social Security is in crisis because in the future we need to repay the bonds.  Now, instead of spending hours and hours figuring out how to repay the bonds as they come due, they are promulgating ideas on how to cut future Social Security benefits and therefore reduce our debt obligation.  Essentially, it’s a plan to not pay back all of what’s owed on the investment bonds.  This is similar to you walking into the bank to cash out your $1000 savings account and the bank teller saying, “How about I give you $800 instead and we call it good?”  Today Barry Anderson, formerly with OMB,  talked about the fact that he teaches college kids nationwide that they are suckers to believe that Social Security will be there for them.  Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky criticized his statement by saying, “For you to suggest to young people that Social Security somehow will be significantly diminished and they’re suckers to believe otherwise, I think is a distortion of the history of the program and the commitment of the Congress for it to be there…[W]e’re going to make sure that Social Security is a significant part of retirement security for generations to come.  77% of Americans believe that it is critical that we preserve Social Security for generations to come even if it means increasing working Americans’ contributions to Social Security...”  Our financial crisis was caused by reckless spending and inattention to proper revenues.  Figuring out how to pay our debts as a nation is something we are obligated to do.  In order to pay our debts we have to raise revenues and cut expenditures.  One thing is certain, the American people collectively do not need cuts to future Social Security benefits.  If anything, Social Security is a baseline program that a disproportionate number of older women rely upon for survival.  Social Security needs to be strengthened, supported and taken off of the table as a means of any type of solution to our larger financial woes.