As far as 80s trends go, the resurgent popularity of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill rivals that of skinny jeans and Members Only jackets. But were Reagan and O’Neill really as chummy as some people would have us believe?
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Try as they might, conservatives cannot rescue Fiscal Commission Co-Chair Alan Simpson from self-marginalization. But while Simpson’s revealing gaffes remain a welcome political gift for opponents of Social Security and Medicare cuts, his staying power in elite policymaking circles only attests to the sad and distorted state of our nation’s fiscal debate—and the powerlessness of mainstream America within that discussion. That Simpson was probably the most prominent Republican President Obama could find to chair the Commission, is just the latest sign of how Democrats have had to define “moderate” down to slightly-left-of-nutjob.
Charles Blahous, a conservative Social Security expert, and public trustee of the Social Security trust funds, tries to undo the damage done to the Fiscal Commission’s credibility by Ryan Grim’s conversation with Fiscal Commission Co-Chair Alan Simpson. While some of the points he makes are valid, all fail to restore confidence in Simpson as a prominent voice on Social Security policy, or the fairness of the process by which the Fiscal Commission developed its recommendations.
Here’s the rundown. Grim found Simpson cursing out AARP, calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” and claiming that life expectancy was 63 when Social Security was created at an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, a financial industry trade group.
Grim caught up with Simpson and challenged him on the life expectancy statistics. It turns out, Grim noted, that according to the Social Security Trustees, life expectancy if you reached age 65 was 79.7 years for women and 77.7 years from men. Overall life expectancy was lower because of high infant and childhood mortality rates that medical advances have since been largely eliminated. Contrary to Simpson’s implied argument that Social Security was intended to cover very few people, the life expectancy statistics at age 65 confirmed that it served a very real segment of the population.
Simpson responded with confident disbelief, saying, “Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true.”
Chuck Blahous defends Simpson, claiming that Simpson was clearly confusing life expectancy at any age with life expectancy at age 65. In any event, Blahous argues, Simpson’s point stands that overall increases in life expectancy have made Social Security’s finances unsustainable. Simpson’s statement does not discredit the Bowles-Simpson [Fiscal Commission] recommendations, because the “Commission” used SSA’s estimates of both kinds of life expectancy, regardless of what Simpson said. Finally, the ongoing 1983 increase in the normal retirement age from 65 to 67, Blahous says, does not account for the full increases in life expectancy