There is something about being among friends that, like a little wine, occasionally loosens the tongue and encourages even the most cautious politician to lower his guard. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton had such a moment during a Tuesday address before the American Association of Retired Persons’ legislative conference.
In words a more thoughtful Clinton likely would have avoided, the leading Democratic presidential contender told a cheering crowd of AARP policy wonks and political activists that when she’s back in the White House, there won’t be any talk about cutting or privatizing Social Security.
“This is the most successful domestic program in the history of the United States. When I’m president, privatization is off the table because it’s not the answer to anything,” she said. Also off the table will be any benefit cuts or increases in the retirement age.
In Clinton’s world, Social Security is going to go right on just as it is. Even allowing for the expected rhetorical excesses of a candidate seeking support from the nation’s largest liberal lobby, Clinton’s promise not to act — in effect, to be irresponsible — defies reason.
Clinton, meet reality, as described by the 2007 Social Security Trustees Report, which noted in April that: “Social Security spending will exceed projected tax collections in 2017. These deficits will quickly balloon to alarming proportions. After adjusting for inflation, annual deficits will reach $67.8 billion in 2020, $266.5 billion in 2030 and $330.9 billion in 2035.”
In other words, the year draws ever closer when Congress and the president will face a stark choice — either cut benefits or raise taxes so substantially that the economic health of the nation will be jeopardized. That will be the only choice available in great part because politicians in both parties have taken the same head-in-the-sand attitude about fixing Social Security as Clinton.
When that unhappy day comes, the politicians won’t be able to claim they weren’t warned. Here’s the too-diplomatic but still clear language of the trustees: “We are increasingly concerned about inaction on the financial challenges facing the Social Security and Medicare programs. The longer we wait to address these challenges, the more limited will be the options available, the greater will be the required adjustments, and the more severe the potential detrimental economic impact on our nation.”
We prefer more direct language — face reality, Clinton, or the country will face the consequences.