Rick Perry on point about Social Security

Texas Gov. Rick Perry seems to create a fresh controversy every week, even as polls show him moving further ahead of his fellow GOP presidential contenders.

During last week’s Republican debate, Mitt Romney tried to score points against Perry for his recent comments likening Social Security to a Ponzi scheme. But rather than back down, Perry doubled-down with an op-ed column Monday in USA Today that continued to raise questions about the future of Social Security.

He’s right to do so, and is displaying political courage, since many of his strongest supporters are already receiving Social Security or are close to that age.

That isn’t an endorsement of Perry’s presidential campaign, just his willingness to take on this important issue.

In his column Monday, Perry didn’t use the term “Ponzi scheme.” However, he did note that “By 2037, retirees will only get roughly 76 cents back for every dollar that is put into Social Security, unless reforms are implemented.”

Strictly speaking, Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme. It’s not the sort of intentionally fraudulent plan that claims high returns, knowing there aren’t enough investors to cover benefits.

If the demographics of the 1930s had held — with average life expectancy under 65 years and roughly the same number of people joining the work force as those retiring — Social Security would not be facing the financial collapse experts now say is coming.

That predicted collapse is why so many young workers today say they don’t expect to see any Social Security benefits.

Perry isn’t the first politician to recognize these problems, of course. A commission headed by the late-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended substantial changes to Social Security back in the 1990s. The administration of President George W. Bush also looked at ways to make Social Security solvent.

Both efforts were dropped in the face of strong political opposition, especially from groups like AARP.

More recently, the Erskine-Bowles deficit commission created by President Barack Obama recommended significant changes to Social Security to shore up its finances. So far, few people in Congress or at the White House have been willing to take up that cause.

So here’s a political question: Can conservative firebrand and tea party favorite Rick Perry keep his campaign alive after referring to the politically untouchable policy issue?

Several pundits have said Perry’s Social Security rhetoric amounts to “political suicide.” However, a CNN poll taken last week — after Romney jabbed at him over his Ponzi-scheme comment — showed Perry increasing his lead over Romney.

Perry has offered few specifics on how he would mend Social Security, other than protecting the benefits of those 55 and older. But he is absolutely right that “We must have a frank, honest national conversation about fixing Social Security.” And then we must take action, not just push the issue to the back burner once again.


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