This guest post was submitted by Raheem Williams, a policy adviser for the North Dakota Young Republicans.
Heidi Heitkamp debate answers on social security showed a skilled politician, not a policy leader. When asked about the issue of entitlement reform during last night’s debate, Heitkamp sought to deny reality and smear her opponent, Congressman Kevin Cramer. Heitkamp retreated into a common partisan tactic of accusing Republicans of wanting to make grandma and grandpa homeless and self-righteously presenting herself and her party as the saviors of retirement security.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Social Security and Medicare programs are entitlement programs. The Senator’s attempt to sound folksy and relatable should be viewed as an insult to voter intelligence. An entitlement program isn’t welfare. These programs are considered entitlements because Americans have paid into these programs their entire lives and expect to receive the benefits that have been effectively guaranteed to them. The term entitlement in this context isn’t a pejorative. Similar to take-home pay, we should all feel entitled to what we have earned. Unfortunately, this bizarre mischaracterization of a common and universally defined public finance term was only the beginning of Heitkamp’s willful negligence.
Heitkamp would seemingly have supporters believe that she is firmly against cuts to entitlement spending. That’s a perfectly fine position to take. However, the senator runs into a problem Democrats nationwide are often too willing to ignore – math. Social Security and Medicare are pay-as-you-go programs that are highly sensitive to demographic changes. As the number of retirees (beneficiaries) increases relative to workers, the amount of money going into these systems decreases and the amount of money going out increases. The worker-to-beneficiary ratio fell from a high of 159.4 in 1940 to 2.8 in 2013, a decline of 98.2 percent. This creates a massive budgetary shortfall.
Projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show that the Social Security trust funds (which are used to pay the difference between current revenues and expenditures) will be exhausted by 2030, forcing a 29 percent reduction in benefits. There is only one way to address such a shortfall: increase the amount of money going into the system by hiking taxes and/or decreasing benefits. Given that this is a real math problem and not a vast right-wing conspiracy, doing absolutely nothing about the problem guarantees automatic deep cuts to social security.
In last night’s debate, Senator Heitkamp offered voters no solution to the problem. Instead, she opted for partisan antics. She was either too afraid to admit she wants to raise taxes or is lying about being against cuts. The only thing that was clear from the exchange between her and Congressman Cramer on the issue is her willingness to distort the truth and play the people of North Dakota as fools.