The President's Social Security Numbers

February 24, 1999

Social Security is in trouble and needs overhaul, but don't assume that the president's plan will solve the problem. That's not my conclusion. That's a conclusion of a wide array of political commentators, economists, and pundits. Newsweek magazine calls it "Washington's Math Problem: Clinton's plan to save Social Security with the surplus sounds great--until you run the numbers." Martin Feldstein (former chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers) calls it "Clinton's Social Security Sham."

What has all of these people in such an outrage? Well, it appears that the president hasn't been any more truthful about Social Security than he was about Monica Lewinsky. He uses an accounting sleight of hand that looks like it promises a solution but actually commits the country to massive future deficits and tax increases. Let me try to explain without getting too technical.

Over the next 15 years, Social Security tax receipts and trust fund interest will exceed payments by about $2.7 trillion. This $2.7 trillion is the major source of the overall budget surplus. In order to keep Social Security solvent, the president arbitrarily transfers the rest of the budget surplus of $2.8 trillion to the Social Security trust fund even though this money is already spoken for in new spending programs, universal savings accounts, etc.

In other words, he is double counting the money! The reason he can get away with it is because of the bizarre way government keeps track of funds. If the government gave $2.8 trillion to private citizens, it would create $2.8 trillion of budget deficits, and the national debt would rise by $2.8 trillion. But since the Social Security trust fund is part of the government, it isn't counted as a deficit or an increase in the national debt.

The bottom line is this: the President hasn't been any more honest about Social Security than he was about Monica Lewinsky. And I guess that really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.