No, not welfare…

I don’t think I’ve ever gone wrong linking to Mark Schmitt, so here’s a link to Mark Schmitt’s post on Social Security and universalism. Read it in full. As we know, the president proposed at his press conference last week to slash and hack benefits for anyone making over $20,000. See this analysis for more—although do note that Bush’s plan only covers 70 percent of the long-term actuarial imbalance; to get to “solvency,” we’d have to cut benefits even further. But the point of Bush’s “progressive price indexing,” as anyone with even the dimmest of light-receptors can see, is to turn the defined-benefit part of the program into a welfare program for the poor, which can then be killed with nary a howl in the night.

Well, some conservatives are salivating over the thought of Democrats opposing a Bush proposal that helps the poor. Leave aside the fact that Bush’s plan doesn’t really “help” the poor so much as “refrains from gunning them down along with all the rest of us.” (Have our standards really fallen so far that people should be grateful to the president for this?) The larger point, as Mark says, is that “progressive price indexing” really isn’t a very hard thing for liberals to oppose:

We would have to be insane to accept a change that creates a huge, middle-class constituency for whom Social Security would be a demonstrable rip-off. … So there’s no doubt that preserving Social Security, the original model of a universalist program, and not letting it become a targeted welfare program that leaves a large category of middle class people worse off, will be an easy call.

Uh-huh. Calling the program a “safety net” has always been the wrong way to look at it. Social Security is more of an earned right: far from a government “handout,” you have to work hard and pay taxes for at least forty quarters (ten years) to qualify. In fact, because benefits are calculated based on a person’s 35 highest-earning years, the system actually rewards work and success.

Furthermore, as Mark Thoma has argued time and time again, Social Security is not fundamentally an anti-poverty program, but a social insurance program: insurance against disability, insurance against the death of a working spouse or parent, insurance against rapid inflation during your retirement years, and insurance against outliving your retirement savings. These are things that could happen to anybody, not just low-income folks. Why the president thinks anyyone making over $20,000 a year doesn’t deserve these benefits, despite having worked their whole life to earn them, is simply beyond me.