Durn, he just twists every which way, doesn't he? Let's count the twists and twirls:
Me: Why does The Washington Post's editorial board have such a jones for "fixing" Social Security? If it's broke, it ain't very: the Congressional Budget Office says the trust fund's not expected to run out for another 40-plus years, which means its demise hasn't gotten any closer during the past 15 years. The trust fund has a better than 20 percent chance of outlasting the youngest Boomer's 100th birthday. The 75-year actuarial imbalance amounts to 0.38 percent of GDP, or 1.06 percent of taxable payroll. That's really not very big. And you mention none of this in this morning's "Social Security on Ice" editorial.
Meanwhile, we've got much bigger problems to deal with in the same time horizon. Climate change is much more in need of being addressed quickly, and the long-term consequences are considerably more severe. We're paying a much bigger share of our GDP on health care costs than the European and East Asian democracies are, and that's going to bust the Medicare trust fund. But for some reason, you guys harp on "fixing" Social Security to a much greater degree than these other problems. What's the deal?
Fred Hiatt: We agree that health care costs, and the looming Medicare deficit, are a bigger problem than the Social Security deficit--and will be harder to fix. When you put them both together, the US is on an unsustainable path that will put huge burdens on younger workers to take care of more and more retirees. What we've said is, if SS is easier to fix, let's at least do that, because the longer you wait, the harder it gets--and if we can't do that, it doesn't bode well for fixing the more complicated ones.Me: Isn't that a universally applicable argument in favor of dealing with more trivial problems before dealing with more substantive problems? Why should the next president burn a good deal of his political capital on a fight regarding Social Security that doesn't need to be fought for at least five years, when time's a-wastin' on climate change and health care costs?
Fred Hiatt: Look, if Congress would enact a serious cap and trade or carbon tax bill, that would make us happy too--as we've said probably more times than our readers care to recall. We don't argue to do the trivial first. What we do say is, to NOT do Social Security because Medicare is more serious is also a silly argument. SS needs fixing, the longer you wait the harder it gets, so why wait? (Plus, in a Washington that worked better, the outlines of a SS compromise would be pretty obvious to most.)
1) Lumping Social Security in with Medicare: "[w]hen you put them both together, the US is on an unsustainable path..." yada yada yada.
Look, if a 170 pound man and a 500-pound man get on a scale together, it's clear that the 170-pound man and the 500-pound man need to get their combined weight under control. Hiatt's answer is to write a pile of editorials recommending that the 170-pound man face up to painful choices regarding diet and exercise.
2) Social Security as test run for dealing with more major problems: I responded to that, and Hiatt retreated to:
3) "We don't argue to do the trivial first. What we do say is, to NOT do Social Security because Medicare is more serious is also a silly argument."
OK, then, let's take up fixing Social Security after passing effective climate change legislation, and after controlling health care costs. I'm good on that. So why's the Washington Post editorial page been far more relentless in its advocacy of 'fixing' Social Security than it has on health care and climate change? It hasn't been saying, "deal with climate change and health care costs first, but it shouldn't lose sight of Social Security." It's been maintaining a relentless 'fix Social Security' drumbeat for years.
4) "SS needs fixing, the longer you wait the harder it gets, so why wait?" Bzzzzt! The longer we've waited, the harder it hasn't gotten: the point on the horizon when the Trust Fund will run out, keeps on receding. As long as it keeps doing so, it doesn't need fixing at all.
5) "The outlines of a SS compromise [are] pretty obvious."
Here's my 'obvious' solution: wait until the Trust Fund is expected to run out in only 35 years, then write legislation to be triggered when the expected exhaustion date is 30 years away. Then if we never reach that date, we never have to 'fix' anything.
I doubt that remotely resembles Hiatt's 'pretty obvious' compromise. But then, Hiatt's a dumbass. But you knew that.