Social Security and the Economics of Bill Thomas

Congressman Bill Thomas went on Meet the Press to explain that his “dead horse” comment does not mean he opposes Bush’s Social Security deform. Thomas supports Bush on this issue. In this interview, there were four odd statements but only three came from Mr. Thomas.

Thomas’s “dead horse” comment was really a complaint that “the other side” was arguing against Bush’s proposal before it entered “the legislative process”. Of course, Bush’s minions are making their case based on some gross distortions of this issue. Is it not fair for our side to counter these dishonest claims? I guess not. But we also know the House GOP leadership loves to truncate real debates when the White House does place a proposal into the legislative process. Thomas did not promise to allow for a vigorous debate on Social Security nor an honest debate. If he wants to make this promise – that’d be great.

Thomas also argued that the types of ideas used in 1983, such as increasing payroll contributions or deferring the retirement age – cannot be long-term solutions to the “problem”. Then again, he never really defined what the problem was. But think about this analogy. Bob reached the age of 25 in 1985 only to discover his six foot frame had reached 275 pounds. Bob decided to change his bad eating habits and finally join a gym and exercise. Fifteen years later, Bob trimmed down to a very healthy 175 pounds. But with a promotion in 2000 and more job responsibility, Bob has allowed his weight to rise to 190 pounds. His doctor and his wife are asking him to get back into the gym more and to get back to his prior healthy eating habits. I guess Thomas thinks this will not work.

The oddest thing Mr. Thomas said had to do with tax policy and employment. First, he said that past payroll tax increases may not have reduced employment but another tax increase would. So Russert pressed him on how he would reduce the government deficit. Income taxes? No because that would reduce employment. Then Thomas revealed his real agenda – imposing some form of sales taxes. I can understand shifting from income taxes to sales taxes to induce more saving, that is, trading off current consumption for future consumption. But how does increasing sales taxes to cut income taxes induce more employment given that it does not alter the tradeoff between goods and leisure?

The oddest comment during the interview came from Mr. Russert:

Many specific questions about Social Security. Right now we have a cost-of-living increase, a COLA increase, that is tied more to wages than actual inflation. It is inaccurate by everyone’s estimation. Should that be adjusted in order to be accurate and specifically related to inflation?

Someone call Bob Somerby as Russert has gotten the issue wrong again. No one is saying increases in nominal wages is a better indicator of the increase in the cost of living than the consumer price index. But since Mr. Russert is so incredibly behind on his understanding of the Social Security issues, let me suggest that on this score he simply consult this blog for part of his remedial reading.