February 04, 2005

More On The Bush Phase-Out

This evening, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put out a helpful explanation of the Bush administration's confusing Social Security phase-out plan. Matt Yglesias breaks it down into even plainer language.

The key point is this. The CBPP notes that for people my age, median benefits will drop (on average) from a guaranteed $19,700 a year under the current system down to about $13,097 a year under Bush's likely plan. Some people will get lucky with their investments and do better than $13,097, some people will do worse. But that's the basic cut. We'd all have to make some pretty damn impressive investments to get retirement benefits equal to what the current system, which is supposedly in "crisis", can pay.

It's also worth noting, if I'm not mistaken (and I could be), that these numbers might even understate the size of the cut. First, some background. The CBPP calculates the "Bush plan" benefits by first assuming the president will switch from price-indexing to wage-indexing of benefits in order to make the program solvent in the long-term. So that accounts for the bulk of my cut above. After that, the government will slash my guaranteed benefits even further based on how well I do with my private accounts. So in all likelihood CBPP thinks I'll be left with something like $10,000 a year from my private account and $3,000 worth of guaranteed benefits still remaining. (I'm eyeballing it.)

But here's the thing -- in the estimates cited above, it looks like CBPP is doing the decent thing and assuming that the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to redeem all of the money its invested in government bonds over the past few decades. If, however, the federal government were to, uh, default on all that money it's borrowed from Social Security—and the president seems to imply that it might have to, in order to pay for upper-income tax cuts—then the program will suffer even deeper long-term shortfalls necessitating even deeper cuts. (Without the Trust Fund, even wage-indexing won't bring us to solvency.) This goes for young people too. I'll be retiring at a time when Social Security can likely still tap into the Trust Fund to pay benefits, according to the CBO. So more cuts for me! People in their 30s and 40s right now will really get screwed.

Oh, and not to mention the fact that defaulting on the Trust Fund—which was paid for with payroll taxes on low- and middle-earners—to pay for tax cuts that are largely for high-earners would be hideously immoral. But that goes without saying. Um, right? On the other hand, by tomorrow
-- Brad Plumer 12:28 AM || ||