This week from Rasmussen:
Republicans hold a 10-point edge when it comes to voter trust on Social Security-related issues, 46% to 36%, up from a virtual tie last month.
That has to be pretty disturbing to Democratic strategists. If their Party is not even trusted to defend their most cherished and celebrated legislative achievement, what can they win on?
But it also raises the question of why? Republicans are not known as fans of big government social programs, and Social Security is the biggest of them all. Why would voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on this of all things?
And what should Republicans do with this trust? Should we fritter it away because of our ideological predisposition against programs of this sort?
I would like to propose that conservatives and Republicans instead capitalize on this voter trust and step up to defend not these programs as a whole, or even in concept, but the benefits that have been earned by those who currently rely on them.
In their inception, Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs. They are government-mandated retirement and health insurance programs. In my opinion, the contract that has been created between those who paid into those programs and the federal government should be considered as sacrosanct as any other contract. People worked their whole lives to earn, and the federal government owes, the benefits that they now enjoy.
The starting point for any proposed reform of these programs should be to make good on that contract. We should fulfill the promises made to current beneficiaries, and guarantee that every cent that has been taken out of the trust funds for the two programs to pay for other federal expenses will be paid back in full, with interest. Neither of these trust funds is upside down from an accounting perspective at present, and neither will be in the short-term. There is no reason that current beneficiaries cannot enjoy the benefits that they have earned.
It is in fact the Democrats who have been perfectly willing to raid these trust funds for all manner of government waste, inefficiency, and patronage. They have, as always, taken the money from those who have earned it and given it to those who have not. But the prommissary notes (T-bills) are still there, signifying that they must pay that money back. Now they don't want to, and they are looking for a way out of that obligation so that they can continue with their profligate ways. We should not give it to them. We should demand that those notes be paid in full, exactly as promised.
Now, with respect to those who are under the age of 65 and are not currently enjoying benefits, I think it's fair to put some things on the table: privatization and personalization; changes in promised benefits to reflect actuarial realities; elimination of unearned benefits. All of that should be fair game.
But please, can we agree out the outset that we will respect the obligation that the nation has toward those who have earned their benefits. Although a government-enforced social program such as Social Security can never really be called conservative, respecting the sanctity of contract, the value of work and earnings, and the fulfillment of obligations are, to me, very much part of the conservative ideal.