Two recent letters to the editor on my comments that Social Security is on an unsustainable path and must be fixed (The Maui News, April 25), show the uncertainty and confusion that results when our elected officials are not honest with us about our challenges and avoid fair corrective decisions.
Here are the stripped-down basics on Social Security retirement payments (the story is similar for disability payments). Since its inception, Social Security has been pay-as-you-go. Payments in from working folks have funded payments to retired folks. But in just a few years, payments out will start to exceed payments in because more people are retiring and living longer than are working. The surplus to date was supposed to have been saved up to cover the shortfall when it came, but it's been all borrowed and spent on nonbenefit purposes. Even if it was completely paid back, sometime around just 20 years from now it would be depleted and we'd have a permanent shortfall of payments in against payments out.
That's if we do nothing.
But we can do something and rebalance Social Security now to stabilize it for all Americans in the future, without affecting any payments to people now receiving or coming up on receiving benefits.
An April 30 letter writer said that the problem is borrowing from Social Security for other purposes. I agree and, as Maui's member of Congress, supported a lockbox under which any surplus was reserved strictly to Social Security. But even if we did that now, we'd still have a lot to pay back and would still have a unsustainable system over time.
A May 1 letter writer questioned whether I understand Social Security because, in his view, the money borrowed is going to be repaid anyway, it's all one government anyway and "thus, Social Security can't go broke." He's correct that the money borrowed is going to be repaid, but misses the corresponding hit to non-Social Security funds and programs of hundreds of billions of dollars and misses that even if all borrowings are repaid there will still be a huge shortfall inside of a few decades absent readjustment. I do agree with the letter writer that uncapping FICA is part of the solution and that "the real long-term problem is the growing cost of health care."
Maui voters have open and contested U.S. Senate and House elections this year, and the fiscal stability of not only Social Security but of our country should be front and center. I urge voters to review all candidates on whether we understand our country's challenges and what we'll do to tackle them. Denial and misrepresentation hiding behind scripted sound bites and 30-second TV commercials will get us all nowhere.
* Ed Case served in the U.S. House from 2002 to 2007 representing Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District. He is currently a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka.