The Corner

Huckabee: Expand Social Security

Mike Huckabee is arguing against any reductions in future spending on Medicare and Social Security. Here’s the core of his argument:

Sadly, the establishment elites treat Social Security and Medicare like WELFARE benefits. This is completely unacceptable, appalling, and flat-out wrong—these are EARNED benefits. Seniors are getting stabbed in the back while the Washington Republican establishment tells them it’s a back massage!

Notwithstanding the capital letters, it’s Huckabee’s argument that’s flat-out wrong. He treats these programs as though they were merely forced-savings programs: People put into them during their working lives and then draw down their balances in retirement. The programs were constructed to have that appearance: FDR said that the payroll tax was there to make it hard for future politicians to take away benefits. But the appearance is a myth. Past beneficiaries of these programs, and many current beneficiaries, have more than gotten their money back; the government has spent, and is spending, far more on them than they ever contributed.

The reason the government should avoid cutting benefit levels isn’t that seniors and future seniors are owed what they have put in; it’s that it’s wrong to promise people something and then not deliver. It’s especially wrong to make a promise on which people are heavily counting and then go back on it when it’s too late for them to make different plans. That’s a good argument for leaving benefits unchanged for seniors and near-retirees. It’s not a good argument for raising taxes so that we can avoid moderating the future growth of Social Security benefits—which is the sort of thing we would have to do if we took Huckabee’s message to heart.

And it’s no argument at all for Huckabee’s other idea: changing the way Social Security calculates inflation to be more generous. The system doesn’t have the money to pay what it has promised, but he wants to give out even more than that.

(disclosure)

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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