You know the time-tested-and-proven adage -- a gaffe is when a politician opens his mouth and what he or she really believes comes out. Sometimes it's the revelation that the politician is barking mad and doesn't have the foggiest notion what they are talking about.
We only have to look back a week for a perfect example of this phenomenon, when Mitch McConnell said this in an interview with Congressional Quarterly:
"Last week, the Social Security trustees issued a report saying Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable under their current structure."
Back in the day, when we had a functioning press corps instead of a cocktail-weenie-wagging press corpse; back when we had real reporters doing actual journalism instead of the steno-pool full of faithful scribes who can be counted on to regurgitate right-wing talking points unchallenged; back then, that sort of nonsense would have been a bit in the teeth of the reporter, who would have done his or her homework ahead of time, and McConnell would have been hammered mercilessly with the fact that the trustees said no such thing.
"Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing."
There is a world of difference between what McConnell said the trustees reported and what the McConnell said they reported.
McConnell's implication is that there is a hair-on-fire emergency and Social Security has to be fundamentally changed because it's doomed to bankruptcy otherwise; when in fact what the trustees presented was an either/or -- either revenues will have to be raised, or benefits will have to be cut decades down the road.
The essential Dean Baker had the best analogy I have seen on McConnell's misrepresentation:
This would be like driving from Chicago to Detroit and determining that at some point you will need more gas to complete the trip. That would mean stopping at a gas station and refilling your tank. By contrast, McConnell's comment implies that the car is about to breakdown and will not make the trip.
Congressional Quarterly failed their readers when they didn't follow up and press the Senator to clarify whether
A.) he didn't understand what the trustees actually said or
B.) was being deliberately dishonest in pursuit of political gain.
There is no option C.
The reality is there is no Social Security crisis, no matter how loudly the greed-mongers and deficit scolds insist there is.
They can wail and gnash their teeth and rend the cloth from their breast all day long and into the night. That still won't change the fact that Social Security is not only not responsible for our deficit woes, it is independent of the deficit /and/ it is solvent for decades. Period. Full stop.
The trustees report that McConnell misrepresented actually presents the same findings as the CBO report in that last link. Both report that the Social Security trustfund, without changing a thing, will be able to make full payouts through 2030-something -- it should also be noted that the full payout projections have been pushed downward not by flaws in the system, but by the economic downturn of the last couple of years. Both note that those numbers should start ticking back up as the economy recovers, and if that isn't the case, we have a lot bigger problems than Social Security heading our way.
In reality, any projected shortfalls in future Social Security benefits could be easily remedied with either of a couple of easy fixes would not only fill that hole, it would put the program on a sound footing indefinitely. The first option would be to raise the cap. Currently, a person making more than $106,800 pays no Social Security tax on any monies earned over that amount. Removing the cap and taxing all monies equally would put the program on solid footing indefinitely. So would a very modest increase -- 1% or less -- in the amount of payroll tax withheld from the wages of those of us who earn less than $106,800.
I don't know about you, but I would be willing to give up three designer coffees a pay-period now to assure that Social Security will be there when I reach retirement age.
Elected leaders who embrace the "fundamental change is necessary" mantra are either stupid, or lying. In neither instance should they be making decisions that affect millions of Americans. And that goes double for those who parrot the BS knowing full well it's just that...BS.
I'm looking at you, CQ.
[This post originally appeared at Show Me Progress and is part of a series I am writing as a blogging fellow for the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 270 national and state organizations dedicated to preserving and strengthening Social Security.]