Senate race centers on Social Security
By Matt Pommer
Republican Ron Johnson says most people now in their 20s, 30s and 40s don’t expect Social Security to be around when they retire.
Johnson has been riding the Social Security issue in his bid to oust Democrat Russ Feingold from the U.S. Senate. Johnson is seeking senior citizen votes by claiming Social Security is a “Ponzi-like” operation and that he would protect the money.
His stated goal is to keep the Social Security promises to those already retired and to those approaching retirement. He doesn’t say at what age he considers people to be nearing retirement. Unclear is what he sees for younger Americans.
He is not the only Republican candidate in America with that theme. The Social Security administration takes exception to the “Ponzi-like” talk, arguing it’s is a “pay-as-you-go” retirement system.
Ponzi refers to Charles Ponzi, a con artist of the early 20th century who made wild promises of stock market gains to lure thousands to invest with him. The wild promises were impossible to fulfill, and new investments were used to keep the scheme going. It finally collapsed.
No thoughtful citizen would see Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, according to the Social Security administration.
Projections indicate Social Security will be solvent through 2038. Hinting it might go belly up in future decades suggests elected officials won’t pay for the program. Johnson dances by that question, merely suggesting a bipartisan group could work something out. He volunteers no remedy.
Among alternatives mentioned in Washington are increasing the age for normal retirement benefits and increasing the amount of earned income upon which Social Security taxes are paid. For example, the Republican House leader has floated the idea of gradually increasing the normal retirement age to 70.
Some Republicans have suggested a different approach for younger citizens. Some are advocating partial privatization of Social Security, an idea floated initially by then-President George W. Bush and now U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.
These politicians would let young people invest part of their Social Security taxes in individual accounts. But that would seem to remove money coming into the Social Security pool used to pay monthly benefits. The talk of better investment gains would surely bring a smile to Ponzi’s face.
Feingold presents a sharp contrast to Johnson on Social Security. Feingold defends the system, saying it should be continued for all future generations. He specifically denounces the 401(k) approach, calling it an attempt to destroy Social Security.
The current ceiling on Social Security taxable income could be raised, Feingold says.
Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.