Preserving The `Noble Purpose' Of Social Security

Robert Kuttner unfortunately joined the fear-mongering special-interest groups who have labored against entitlement reform with his piece "Why are we so insecure about Social Security?" (Economic Viewpoint, July 4).

He opens by declaring that our Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement & Tax Reform is "on a crusade to demonize entitlements, particularly Social Security." I and several other members of the commission have said repeatedly that entitlement programs--particularly Social Security--serve a noble purpose that must be preserved. It is for precisely that reason that reform is necessary. Were we opposed to the programs, demonization would be unnecessary: We would need simply to leave the programs alone and allow them to consume themselves, a direction in which mathematics shows they are now headed.

Kuttner proceeds to lay out a series of modest options for reform, apparently in an effort to paint the commission as favoring stronger--in his words, "alarmist"--options. In fact, those reforms are all under consideration by our group. One of the plans Kuttner cites in arguing against the commission was actually authored by a commission member, Representative Dan Rostenkowski.

Kuttner concludes with a common myth of the entitlement debate: health-care reform alone will solve the problem. While he is correct to argue that reform is an important part of the solution, it will do nothing to address the demographic trends propelling entitlement spending out of control. Even the strongest advocates of cost containment recognize the need to address the bigger problem of projected entitlement growth beyond the rate of health-care inflation.

Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.)

U.S. Senate


Kuttner suggests that the solution to the age-based inequities of ballooning entitlement payments to seniors is to extend health-care entitlement payments to all age groups. He supports this dubious recommendation with the claim that such action would inject fiscal prudence into the system "by compelling the health system to live within an overall budget." Kuttner could lend some credibility to his argument by providing a list of government programs that have ever contained costs or lived within a budget.

Daniel R. Miley

San Diego

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