Liberal Democrats are following around Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) on the campaign trail this fall with a giant, inflatable, 11-foot gorilla. That is meant to represent a supposed “gorilla in the room” that Santorum doesn’t want to talk about — “massive benefit cuts” that the lefty Democrats falsely allege would result from the personal Social Security accounts Santorum has long supported.
Democrats are running ads in Ohio making the same charge against Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce. Expect to see the same charges against Republicans elsewhere in the country, with a threatened escalation to 40-foot inflated gorillas.
But these charges could not be more wrong. The only way to avoid future benefit cuts in Social Security is, in fact, through personal investment accounts, which would actually pay workers higher benefits in the future than Social Security even promises, let alone what it can pay.
The chief actuary of Social Security has now officially scored five or six different personal account reform plans as achieving full solvency in Social Security, without any benefit cuts or tax increases. This results because the accounts, financed through taxes that workers already pay, would eventually take over so much responsibility for paying future retirement benefits that Social Security is left in financial balance.
Indeed, these personal account reform plans all include a federal guarantee that workers would receive at least as much in benefits as Social Security promises under current law. The only other way to pay those currently promised benefits in the future is to raise the Social Security payroll tax by over 60%.
But these personal accounts plans all go beyond even this. They are all designed so that eventually, with the accounts earning standard, long term, market investment returns, workers would get higher benefits than Social Security promises for the future under current law.
Workers would also directly own their retirement funds in the personal accounts, just like their own bank accounts. They would be free as well to choose to leave some or all of their accumulated account funds to their families at death.
In opposing these personal accounts, Rep. Sherrod Brown, the far-left Ohio Democrat opposing DeWine, and the know-nothing, see-nothing Bob Casey Jr. opposing Santorum, are, in fact, supporting the “massive benefit cuts” and massive tax increases which are the only alternative to personal accounts.
Republicans would make a big mistake in hiding from the personal accounts. Because of the enormous benefits they provide for working people, they are rightly seen as a populist, positive idea at the grassroots, among both Republican and Democrat voters.
Indeed, Democrats tried the same attack during the mid-term elections in 2002. This is how top pollster John Zogby summed up that effort: “In every race where personal accounts for Social Security became a major issue, the candidate favoring personal accounts won and the candidate opposing them lost.”
But Republicans are not helped by the think-tank savants who last year insisted that personal account reforms should be combined with major cuts in Social Security benefits as well. One such self-styled reformer proclaimed at a Washington conference that even seniors already retired today should not be exempt from such cuts. Another proudly proclaimed that he had a plan that would eventually reduce Social Security benefits to insignificance.
Republicans should continue to ignore these professional Beltway chest thumpers, the real, self inflated, gorilla balloons in Social Security reform. These boys and girls need to get out on a real campaign trail themselves knocking on doors and talking to voters.
Meanwhile, if Republicans would stand and fight on personal accounts, showing the enormous benefits they provide to working people, they would win again on this issue.