Social Security has become a campaign issue this August, as Democrats have hit their Republican opponents for supporting privatization, and as Congressman Paul Ryan, the GOP's current fiscal idea man has suggested we privatize Social Security and make some drastic changes to Medicare.
It's undeniable that Social Security faces some big challenges, with baby boomers retiring and with fewer workers paying into the system to support them. But President Obama reassured a small crowd in Columbus, Ohio today that the situation isn't so dire.
"Here's the thing," Obama said when asked about privatizing Social Security by a woman in the audience. "Social Security is not in crisis."
Obama has opposed privatizing Social Security, and he told the crows that privatization is not on the table. "Social Security should not be privatized, and it will not be privatized as long as I'm president," he said.
"We're going to need to make some modest adjustments to strengthen it. There are some fairly modest changes that can be made without resorting to any newfangled schemes that would continue Social Security for another 75 years," Obama told the crowd.
"What we've done is we've created a fiscal commission" to propose deficit-reduction measures, some of which could include adjustments to Social Security, Obama said. The commission is being headed by former Republican House Whip Alan Simpson and Clinton White House aide Erskine Bowles. It will issue policy proposals in December; if the commission can agree on legislative language, Congress could take it up for a vote.
Liberals have voiced concern about some of those "adjustments" the commission could recommend. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has already sent a letter (CPC letter to fiscal commission.pdf) to the commission asking it, or warning, it not to recommend any reduced benefits or increases to the retirement age. Nancy Altman, who leads the group Social Security Works, recently told The Hill she thinks the fiscal commission could wind up changing Social Security "by stealth."
Social Security's $678 billion accounted for 19% of the federal budget in 2009, and Obama's comments come as the public has little faith in the program: according to a CNN poll last week, 60% of non-retired respondents do not think Social Security will be able to pay them a benefit when they retire.