Cuts in Social Security benefits might be used as one means to reduce the burgeoning federal budget deficit. But are there better ways to deal with the problem?
J Pat Carter/AP/File
"That's not hyperbolic," says Nancy Altman, codirector of Social Security Works, a group dedicated to preserving the system that provides income for 50 million retirees, the disabled, millions of children, and more. Her fear is that President Obama's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will recommend cuts in Social Security benefits as one means to reduce the burgeoning federal budget deficit. If 14 of 18 commissioners agree on a deficit-cutting plan, it could be passed at a lame-duck session of Congress without the extensive hearings and discussions that normally precede such an important measure.
"There would be little chance for the public to have an influence," says Ms. Altman.
Public opinion polls consistently show that Americans don't want Social Security trimmed. The median retiree benefit at present is about $14,000 a year, hardly lavish. But Altman suspects the commission might sell Congress a plan to cut benefits, along with other deficit-reducing measures, as a necessity, albeit an unpopular one.
Congress, in passing health-care reform, didn't achieve major cost cuts, says Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a liberal think tank in Washington. The medical, health insurance, and drug industries were too powerful, he says. So conservatives are striving to get savings out of Social Security. What's developing is a spirited battle between right and left. When Alex Lawson, communications director of Social Security Works, caught former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the commission, outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building after a recent closed-door session of a commission study group, Mr. Lawson's video of the exchange caught fire online.