Lost amid the budget battles in Congress and the anti-union legislation being considered in several states has been the White House’s deliberate decision to take the topic of Social Security reform off the deficit debate menu.
The latest move in that direction came on Tuesday, when Jason Furman, deputy director of the President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council, insisted that talk of Social Security reform “is not one you care about” if “you are worried about our long-run fiscal future.”
“The reason you care about it is because you want to strengthen Social Security,” Furman added in a speech at the progressive nonprofit group NDN. “It is such a critical part of our social insurance, the bedrock of retirement security for senior citizens, one of the leading anti-poverty programs for children, critical support for people with disabilities. And for all those reasons and the fact that its solvency … is another 26 years, till 2037, the real motivation is strengthening the program.”
Those remarks are a strong reflection of growing defensiveness on the White House’s part in response to calls to reform the longstanding entitlement program. During this year’s State of the Union address, Obama said he would “speak out against” plans to “target” Social Security should they materialize in Congress. Top adviser David Plouffe likewise said the president would neither slash nor reduce benefits while in office.
Furman’s comments are more assertive in their framing. Rather than merely ruling out drastic changes to the entitlement program, he is arguing that Social Security has no place in a debate over the deficit — a position directly at odds with the conclusions reached by the chair’s of president’s own deficit commission.
Earlier on Tuesday, another Obama administration official made a similar case. In an op-ed in USA Today, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew wrote that “Social Security does not cause our deficits” and that the program’s “benefits are entirely self-financing.”
“Strengthening Social Security is an important, but parallel, issue that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible,” Lew wrote. “But let’s not confuse it as either the cause of or a solution to our short-term fiscal problems.”