It would be a shock if the National Organization for Women (NOW) were anything but outraged by recommendations to cut government spending. Yet one could still hope they’d get their facts straight before launching the expected torpedoes against the government-cutting plan.
Unfortunately, NOW didn’t meet this minimum threshold when reacting to the Fiscal Commission co-chairs’ recommendations to change Social Security. In NOW’s press release, president Terry O’Neill claims:
Millions of women will be pushed into poverty and out of the middle class if preliminary recommendations for cutting Social Security benefits made by the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform are adopted . . .
Co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have come up with a proposal that would move Social Security toward being a welfare program, rather than the guaranteed income security program it is designed to be . . .
That’s the opposite of what’s needed. In fact, benefits need to be improved — not cut — for women. At a time when so many working families are struggling, the co-chairs’ proposal is terrible policy. I hope we can count on the president to reject it out of hand.
In reality, the proposed changes to Social Security would make the system much more progressive: Reductions are concentrated on those at the top, precisely because they won’t be pushed into poverty as a result of cuts. Furthermore, the plan actually increases the minimum benefit to ensure that anyone who has worked a full career won’t retire in poverty (as Chuck Blahous explains in detail).
O’Neill may loathe the idea of slowing the growth of Social Security benefits for anyone (even for “the rich”), but she should also consider how women will fare under the alternative scenario, in which Social Security’s costs are never controlled and tax increases are used to meet obligations. Balancing Social Security’s finances would require a massive increase in payroll taxes, which would deter job creation and reduce the take-home pay of American families. How is this preferable to having benefits for middle- and upper-income seniors that may be less than promised (but not paid for) under current law, but are still higher than those seniors receive today?
The Fiscal Commission’s co-chairs should be commended for recommending some common-sense ways to reduce Social Security’s trillion-dollar unfunded liability. They’d be wise to ignore critics like O’Neill. I’d trust that most of the American people understand that hard choices have to be made, and appreciate being treated like grown-ups.