Politics & Policy

Robert Reich does not, in fact, back Charlie Crist’s plan to save Social Security

In selling the idea that a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants could bolster Social Security, Charlie Crist has repeatedly name-dropped Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, to lend the proposal legitimacy.

“If we are able to get those people to be legal citizens of our country, then we have an opportunity for them to be able to pay into things like Social Security going forward — something that Secretary Bob Reich talked about,” Crist told a TV debate audience on Friday. “I’ve also offered a plan that can help it that’s supported by Robert Reich,” Crist said during a debate on Oct. 6.

But if you ask Robert Reich, it’s apparent that he doesn’t know where Crist could have gotten such an idea.

“I’ve said we’ll have to increase legal immigration in order to secure the Social Security of boomers (otherwise, the ratio of working population to retirees gets too far out of whack), but don’t recall saying anything more,” Reich told Battle ‘10 in an email.

Asked whether the campaign has had contact with Reich, or where he has advocated a path to citizenship as a means to strengthen Social Security, a Crist spokesman pointed to a Christian Science Monitor column written by Reich. But the crux of the argument is just what Reich suggests above — that legal immigration should be increased.

“One logical way to deal with the crisis of funding Social Security and Medicare is to have more workers per retiree, and the simplest way to do that is to allow more immigrants into the United States,” Reich writes.

Nowhere throughout the entire article does Reich mention illegal immigration or amnesty. Further questions to the Crist campaign were not returned.

Presumably, supporters would argue that the two propositions — an increase in legal immigration, and legality for illegals already here — are parallel in that they would both cause an influx of workers into “the system.” But that’s misleading, because approximately half of illegals already pay into Social Security, since their wages are on the books. Moreover, the two proposed scenarios are completely different in implementation, cost, and political possibility. Advocating an increase in legal immigration is simply not the same as advocating amnesty.

Providing a path to citizenship is a complex issue, and Reich may or may not support such a move — he doesn’t say. But it’s dishonest for Crist to drop his name and suggest his backing on statewide television, based on nothing more than a misreading of one newspaper column.

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