Exchequer

CBO: Social Security Now Officially Broke

Today’s CBO report has some bad news about the deficit. But CBO has some really, really bad news about Social Security: It’s officially broke.

The CBO’s revenue/expenditure estimates now place the program in permanent deficit. There had been some hope that payroll taxes would recover sufficiently post-recession to put the program back into the black (the theoretical black) for at least a few more years, putting off the day of reckoning for an election cycle or more. No more: The new CBO estimates put Social Security in the red for as far as the eye can see.

But there’s a bit of camouflage attached: If you include the “interest” that the federal government “owes” the fictitious Social Security “trust fund,” then the program is in the black. Which is to say, if you think that borrowing another $1 trillion from the bond market to shift money from one government account to another government account makes the nation $1 trillion richer, then everything’s hunky-dory. But if you compare the program’s tax income to its benefit outlays, without the “interest” owed, as CBO does, what you get is deficits from this year forward to 2021 of  $45 billion, $30 billion, $28 billion, $30 billion, $31 billion, $33 billion, $44 billion, $59 billion, $77 billion, $98 billion, and $118 billion — by my always-suspect English-major math, about six-tenths of a trillion dollars in the hole.

President Obama has explicitly rejected the recommendations of his own bipartisan deficit panel, specifically the proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age modestly over the course of several decades (to 69 by 2075). But we can only put so many trillions on the national balance sheet before our national chit gets called in, at which point it will hit the fiscal fan.

—  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, just published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

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