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Saturday, Dec 15 2012 11:00 PM

MARK MARTINEZ: The 'Social Security is going bankrupt' lie

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    Mark Martinez

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Here we go again. The Republicans are using debt and tax negotiations as cover to push a dystopian market dream that includes erasing Social Security as we know it from our economic lives. To do so, the GOP is trying to convince America that Social Security contributes to our national debt and is, in the words of Paul Ryan, "going bankrupt."

Both are flat-out lies. Here's why.

Let's remember that Social Security is a self-funding program. It has contributed absolutely nothing to our debt load. In fact, over the years we've contributed so much to our nation's Social Security account a $2.7 trillion surplus now exists.

Congress has raided these surpluses every year. In return we get government security notes. According to the GOP, because these securities are "just IOUs" -- and we're running budget deficits -- we don't have to pay our nation's retirees back. Put another way, congressional Republicans are saying America no longer has a legal or moral responsibility to honor its financial obligations.

Anyone who's read the U.S. Constitution (specifically, Article VI) knows we have a constitutional duty to pay our bills. We've done it since the American Revolution. We did it during the Civil War, the Great Depression, and even through the world wars. Still, the GOP argues that since we don't have $2.7 trillion on hand we don't have to honor our Social Security deal, and should cut back on promised benefits.

Hey, I have an idea. Since we don't have $16.3 trillion on hand to pay our national debt, let's not pay our creditors either. Take that China -- and Saudi Arabia -- and Japan -- and everyone else who's lent us money. Or let's cut a deal and pay our creditors 75 cents on the dollar.

As silly as this sounds, it's essentially the argument congressional Republicans are making when it comes to the $2.7 trillion we borrowed from Social Security. And the silliness continues.

After the 2008 market collapse, Congress did virtually nothing as the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department forked over more than $4 trillion to Wall Street and America's financial sector. But that's not all.

Via an alphabet soup of new loan, credit and guarantee programs (TALF, TSLF, PPIP, Legacy Assets, etc.), the American taxpayer is on the hook for an additional $13 trillion. That's right. More than $17 trillion has been made available to bailout, backstop and pay off the bad bets of the crony capitalists on Wall Street.

Yet, congressional Republicans say we can't find $2.7 trillion to pay back the seniors who helped fund and build the American Century.

The irony here is that the GOP not only believes it's OK if we don't honor our financial obligations, but many argue we need to "privatize" Social Security if we want to fix it. Huh? In real simple terms, "privatization" is GOP-speak for sending the trillions of dollars now running through Social Security accounts to Wall Street (which makes privatization a backdoor bailout in perpetuity, on so many levels).

What gets lost in all the "cut back" and "privatization" double talk is one simple fact. There's no problem with Social Security if we simply honor the Constitution, and respect the contract we made with our nation's seniors.

Still, let's say the GOP gets its way. We become a banana republic, and pick and choose which debts we honor. At worst, our seniors get 75 cents on the dollar after 2033. However, as I argued more than six years ago, Social Security isn't in trouble if we:

* Rescind the Bush tax cuts. Rescinding all Bush-era tax cuts brings in around $4 trillion over the next 10 years. It's almost $1 trillion if we target just the top 2 percent. Projected Social Security shortfalls disappear under these scenarios.

* Remove the payroll tax cap. No one pays a dime into Social Security after they earn $110,100. Removing the cap keeps Social Security solvent into the 22nd century.

Rather than discuss these issues, congressional Republicans prefer to scare America about Social Security's future "insolvency" so they can cut back on senior benefits today. Not so coincidentally, they also get to argue that government programs, like Social Security, don't work, while maintaining tax cuts for the rich.

An added bonus for the GOP and its financial backers is how this story line lays the groundwork to sell America on a Wall Street Social Security privatization scheme -- a bailout in perpetuity.

Social Security isn't headed for bankruptcy. What's bankrupt is the moral code of congressional Republicans. It's why they're putting ideology and the interests of Wall Street above the Constitution, and our promise to America's seniors.

Mark A. Martinez, Ph.D., is the author of "The Myth of the Free Market" and a professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield.

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