As Congress's attention is about to sway toward the deficit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is making some strong public statements that Social Security shouldn't be touched. The former amateur boxer might be the toughest obstacle standing in the way of reforms to the program.
"They are using scare tactics, saying the program's in crisis and the verge of bankruptcy. That is a myth, and it's not true," Reid said of Republicans at an event in Nevada last week, where the Progressive Change Campaign Committee presented him with a stack of signatures from its members thanking him for opposing cuts to the program.
"As long as I'm the majority leader, I'm going to do everything in my legislative powers to prevent privatizing or eliminating Social Security. I'll simply say it's off the table," Reid said.
This follows a Jan 4 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in which Reid told David Gregory that "Stop picking on Social Security...I am saying that the arithmetic on Social Security works."
Reid said that "Social Security is fine. Are there thins we can do to improve Social Security? Of course," but refused to support any means-testing or increases to the retirement age.
Reid is an FDR-style Democrat who believes government services like Social Security form the backbone of what a government should supply to citizens. During the 2010 midterm campaign season, The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann detailed Reid's roots in a Nevada mining town as the genesis of those sensibilities.
It's common belief, meanwhile, that Social Security is in big trouble. The Social Security Administration warns citizens on Social Security benefits statements:
Without changes, in 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to pay only about 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.* We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations
Most recently, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, formed by President Obama, recommended an increase to the retirement age. There are those on both sides of the aisle who say that the only serious way to confront deficit reform is to shave spending from Social Security and Medicare. With Republicans controlling the House, and with Budget Chairman Paul Ryan calling for major changes to both of those programs, it's conceivable the House will draft a plan to reduce benefits.
But if Reid's recent statements are any indication, reforms to Social Security could run into a major roadblock in the upper chamber.