At the beginning of his second term, President Bush emphasized the stance that Social Security reform would be a top priority of his Administration as Social Security is “going broke,” but a proposal that he has since introduced failed with some Americans, and now a recess appointment he has made has received criticism by some.
The Bush administration says at whitehouse.gov “in 2017, the government will begin to pay out more in Social Security benefits than it collects in payroll taxes and shortfalls then will grow larger with each passing year.”
Bush continues to suggest reform and has promoted an adversary of social security to a top policy-making position in the agency. The appointment was given to Andrew Biggs, who has become the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration in Washington. Biggs is the former Social Security analyst and assistant director of the Cato Institute, which is dedicated to privatizing Social Security. He has written extensively on why SS needs reforming.
Cal State Northridge political science professors and students gave their opinions about Biggs’ appointment and his ability to separate his views from the policy decisions he will propose while working within the Bush administration.
Another Political Science Professor said that appointments should be based on expertise and not passion.
“They have completely ignored the idea of having experts in positions to make decisions, said William Wallis, professor of political science. “This to me is just another case of it. Wouldn’t you want someone who does not have an interest in a particular policy in the position, you need someone with expertise in the subject to objectively analyze the data and then go from there.”
Wallis even offered a solution to the challenges social security faces in the future.
“Get rid of the threshold,” he said. “Anyone who makes $90,000 and above does not pay into the system. All they (Congress) has to do is raise that level and they will have plenty of funding for Social Security.”
“I don’t want someone who is close-minded in the position,” political science graduate student Pedro Cesareo said. “You need someone who is realistic who will look at all the options and alternatives.”
Junior political science major Vivian Benyamin agreed with former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly and said, “I think someone who supports Social Security and is open-minded to other solutions that can be applied to the issues should have been appointed to the position.”
She added, “I am not for privatization and would not take advantage of it.”
Kennelly, who is now president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, counters that Bush’s claims are untrue as, “the Social Security Fund is currently showing a surplus because workers have been paying in extra for decades in anticipation of the demographic reality of the baby-boom generation,” Kennelly said. “Total income to the Social Security Trust Fund from payroll taxes in 2005 was $702 billion and benefits paid totaled $521 billion, resulting in a surplus of $181 billion. This surplus is invested in U.S. government securities and earns interest.”
Kennelly continued. Regardless of the NCPSSM’s findings, the Bush administration maintains that SS will be bankrupt by the year 2041. Kennelly said SS faces challenges that should be addressed, but is not “going broke.”
“In 2040, almost 40 years from today, those assets saved up in the trust funds are projected to be exhausted, meaning only incoming payroll tax revenues will be available to pay benefits,” she said. “That means Social Security will be entirely self-funded until the youngest of the baby boomers are nearly 80 years old. After 2040 incoming payroll tax revenues are expected to be enough to pay over 74 percent of the promised benefits?In other words, if Congress does absolutely nothing at all, there will still be sufficient revenues to cover nearly three-quarters of the benefits owed.”
Yet Bush continues to argue SS is in “danger” while his proposal to change the program from a system of guaranteed benefits to a vehicle of investments dependent on individual savings has received mixed reviews from Americans. While the Senate was on spring break, Bush made three recess appointments. A recess appointment is authorized in the Constitution to allow the president to fill a vacant federal position during a break of the Senate. Political science professor Christopher Shortell said that presidents regularly appoint people to high-level positions who closely share their views. “There is nothing inherently troubling about that.”
“The troubling aspect, to me, is the use of the recess appointment,” Shortell said. “Recess appointments were originally intended for times when Congress was between sessions. To make a recess appointment when Congress is just on Easter break is pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a recess.”
The strongest opposition from Democrats is the appointment of Biggs, as he has been a long-time proponent of privatizing Social Security.
Biggs explained his comments in a recent interview and said, “The intent was not to destroy (confidence in) programs upon which Americans depend, but to modernize them to retain important protections but allow individuals greater choice and control.” Kennelly contends that Biggs can do irreparable harm as he can “undermine the program from within.”
“Internal regulatory changes have been made to change dramatically the way laws passed by Congress are implemented,” Kennelly said. “Sometimes, administrators will try to do through regulations what can’t be done legislatively. Moreover, internal policy making includes the tone and outcome of research and reports produced by the agency, prospective cost estimates, and benefit statements issued annually.”
Kennelly’s assertions may have become reality, according to a 2005 investigation by the Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of how social security’s official statements changed during the Bush era.
The investigation into more than 4,000 “internal agency documents as well as agency press releases, publications, power point presentations, web postings, and annual statements revealed that public communications have clearly changed over the last four years and was being used to ‘support reforms’ to Social Security.”
The report states some of the changes to documents are “public assurances that the Social Security system faces no immediate crisis have been eliminated from agency presentations, and descriptions of the role Social Security plays in keeping seniors out of poverty have been dropped. In their place, the agency now repeatedly warns that Social Security is unsustainable and underfinanced and must change.”
Biggs stands firm that policy decisions will not be made, and that they will be made legislatively instead.
“Policy decisions regarding Social Security’s future will be legislated by Congress and signed by the president,” Biggs said.
“Kennelly said that Biggs’ suggestion that policies come from one body is ridiculous. “The president, his cabinet secretaries and administrators have the ability to enact rules and agency regulations affecting everything from environmental enforcement to disability eligibility,” she said. “Many changes have been made over the years, and will continue to be made within agencies and departments, which directly impact both Social Security beneficiaries and American taxpayers. You don’t have to have Congressional approval for everything that happens here in Washington. I’m sure Mr.. Biggs is well aware of that.” Kennelly’s other concern about Biggs is that he would not be able to keep his personal views separate from is duties at the SSA.
“My role at SSA is not to promote my own views but to provide policymakers and the public with information upon which they can make important decisions regarding Social Security’s fut
ure,” he said.
Kennelly argues that someone who “has to check his personal feelings at the door each day” is not the right candidate for the position.