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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is Rick Perry Trying to Make Himself Unelectable?

A couple of great catches this weekend from Think Progress. Rick Perry is campaigning in Iowa calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and saying he “'hasn't backed off' anything in his book,” which is, after all, out less than a year. It's refreshing to see a politician overrule his handlers, but Perry is making it completely clear how far out of the mainstream he is on Social Security.

The fact is, even if we do nothing, after the Social Security Trust Fund is exhausted in 2036, Social Security payroll taxes at their current level will provide about 75% of projected benefits through 2085, according to the 2011 Trustees Report. Getting rid of the income cap on Social Security taxes, currently $106,800, would eliminate the currently projected shortfall, according to the Congressional Research Service (see Table 2 in report). Either way, that's not a Ponzi scheme.

Perry's position makes him highly vulnerable in the 2012 election. If he makes it to the general election, even though the economy will still be doing poorly come November, President Obama will be able to truthfully tell middle-class voters, “Governor Perry wants to get rid of your Social Security.” Since, according to a Pew poll conducted in June, 60% of Americans say it is more important to maintain Social Security and Medicare benefits than to cut the deficit, this argument would be quite harmful to Perry.

What's more, Perry's position is likely to be a liability in the Republican primaries. The same poll showed that a plurality of Republicans, 47% to 44%, favors keeping benefits as they are rather than reducing the deficit. It will be interesting to see if any of the other Republican candidates challenge him on this issue.

Of course, there are lots of polls out there, but I think it's a pretty robust finding that the middle class realizes that it benefits from Social Security. The position of Social Security as a third rail of American politics remains consistent, and Rick Perry will find that out in either the primaries or the general election.

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