I was on a conference call yesterday with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and after listening to experts explain why the proposed payroll tax holiday put Social Security in jeopardy, I asked what I thought was an obvious question: Since there were many smart people working in the White House, did these experts think the White House was oblivious to that risk -- or was that the desired effect?
They concurred it was more likely a matter of kicking the can down the road, concentrating instead on the weak recovery.
"They have to look everywhere for ways to stimulate the economy," said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works and author of The Battle for Social Security. "Republicans suggested this, they went for it."
Dean Baker, progressive economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, agreed.
"I think that's speculation, I don’t believe the administration planned in advance for this situation," he said. "It simply wasn’t a priority for them. First and foremost, [it was to] get a deal with the Republicans. They weren't really thinking down the line."
Barbara B. Kennelly, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said the payroll tax holiday was "a longstanding Republican idea. I have no idea why they went for it. They wanted to give some stimulus to the economy."
They discussed several other issues, including the fact that the Make Work Pay credit was poorly publicized. "That was by design," Baker said. "They wanted people to spend it, not to think of it as extra."
Kennelly said it would be a better to send a check for the payroll holiday amount directly to workers. "It would be better stimulus without an additional burden on employers," she said.