1981-1983 Social Security Commission: Myths and Realities

by Bruce Webb

(Update 2 : Deleted Update 1.)

Currently there is a lot of discussion about forming a new bipartisan Entitlements Commission modeled in part on the ‘Greenspan Commission’ of 1981-82 and partly on the Base ReAlignment Commission (BRAC). The idea is that you get people to agree on ‘Crisis’, then get a ‘bipartisan’ group together to present an up or down ‘compromise’ proposal to Congress. I put ‘bipartisan’ and ‘compromise’ in quotes because this idea is being pushed by a combination of Conservative Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who have predetermined the outcome. A group I belong to is preparing some major push-back, and when the lead authors get the material together it certainly will be plugged here. But in the meantime I invite those interested in this to actually revisit the results of the previous Commission.


The guts of the Report are found here:

While the meat is found here: Appendix K- List of Tables This is extracted from the broader Actuarial Cost Estimates for OASDI and HI and for Various Possible Changes in OASDI and Historical Data for OASDI and HI

Some selected tables and commentary below the fold.

The first Table is from Chapter 2 and shows the mix of recommendations. Note that .58% of payroll is punted to Congress, the rest of this was what they could get from a consensus vote. Even then the final vote on the Report was 12-3.

Now the result translated into numbers:
I am only showing the results for Alternative II-A which is the more optimistic of the two Intermediate Cost projections, for II-B you will have to click through. Table 7-A: Cost rates

Now the same data expressed in Trust Fund Ratios by Alternative

A close look shows that the Commission didn’t really think they had fixed OAS even in the short run. And while their numbers show OAS (that is the actual retirement component) running surpluses in the medium term they still foresaw it running to Depletion in 2027.

As I have said before this would be a pretty sad and ineffective kind of ‘Prefunding Boomer Retirement’. Why is combined TF Depletion now set for 2041? Because the economy actually came in somewhat better than II-A and closer to I (which is now called Low Cost). But that wasn’t part of the master plan

Some additional perspective from the Commission’s Executive Director can be found in this Oral History of Robert Myers. Oral History of Robert Myers