Christie wants Social Security as emergency poverty insurance, not entitlement

By Claude Brodesser-Akner | NJ Advance Media for
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on April 27, 2015

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie dismissed critics of his controversial entitlement reform plans Monday night as "people who don't care whether Social Security stays solvent and is really there for the people who really need it."

"Let's remember," Christie said on his monthly radio show on New Jersey 101.5. "Social Security was created as insurance against poverty for the elderly so that no one — no matter what their circumstance, would live out their years in poverty. That's the primary reason for Social Security's creation. The fact is, we need to get it back to its core mission."

Last week, Christie, who is considering a run for president, went to New Hampshire to unveil a reform plan that called for both means testing and raising the retirement age.

Social Security's 2013 Trust Fund Report projected that the combined retirement and disability fund will be exhausted in 2033. When that happens, taxes collected from workers that year will cover just 77 percent of benefits due at that time.

To Christie, the road to recovery for the program is means testing.

"If you're making more than $200,000 a year in retirement," Christie asked, "do you really need to get the Social Security check every month? Or can you forgo that for the good of the country?"

"Ask the Governor" moderator Eric Scott countered that most Americans believe, having paid into the trust fund for their entire working lives, that they are entitled to the money, regardless of whether they need it or not.

Christie said Social Security was really akin to fire insurance on a family home, and that asking for the money when you didn't need it was like asking your homeowner's insurance company to refund premiums because your home didn't burn down.

"The benefit you got was the security of knowing, if you needed it, it was there," said Christie. "Social. Security."

However, Christie's view of Social Security differs sharply from that of the man who created it, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits," Roosevelt said in June 1941. "With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program. Those taxes aren't a matter of economics, they're straight politics."

Christie's plan also calls for raising the full retirement age to 69. He said Social Security's problems come from increased life-expectancy, not a lack of funding.

"When Social Security started, people's life expectancy was in the 60s," said Christie, "Now, a woman's life expectancy is 83. A man's life expectancy is 79. We can't continue to to have systems that were designed for people to pass away in their sixties."

However, as the SSA website notes, "increases in life expectancy are a factor in the long-range financing of Social Security; but other factors, such as the sheer size of the 'baby boom' generation, and the relative proportion of workers to beneficiaries, are larger determinants of Social Security's future financial condition."

In 1950, for instance, there were 16 workers supporting every retiree. By 2011, there were just over three. By around 2030, it will be down to just two.

A frustrated caller named Jeff noted that he'd already seen his retirement age jump from 65 to 67 in his lifetime under President Reagan's 1983 reform. He angrily asked Christie, "How many times are you going to move the goal line?"

The caller asked if Christie would consider, if president, would instead consider raising the income cap on social security payments to tax income beyond the currently-taxed $118,000 maximum.

Christie quickly lost his empathetic demeanor.

"I love this 'gimme gimme gimme!' attitude," said Christie, "These are facts: If we don't do it, the money's not going to be there. And the solution of a guy like Jeff is: Raise somebody's taxes. Not his. Raise somebody else's. I'm sorry. We hear this all the time. But the math doesn't work, and somebody has to be willing to tell you the truth. And that's what I'm doing."


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