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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
30 October 2000

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 1, No. 42

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Unrebutted Trillion Dollar Lie Defines This Campaign

by Jerome F. Winzig

One candidate in this year's presidential race told a trillion-dollar lie in the last debate. It was a sly, deceptive, devious whopper of a lie. The other candidate voiced polite disagreement but declined to refute the falsehood. The moderator failed to ask a follow-up question that might have forced discussion of the lie. The next day the first candidate began touting the lie as the truth in campaign appearances and television ads. For the most part, the news media did not investigate. One network that did concluded that the lie was really truthful. As a result, much of the electorate, if asked which candidate told a trillion-dollar lie, wouldn't know or would name the wrong candidate.

Therein lies the tragedy of this campaign. One candidate tells huge lies about major issues while the other candidate refuses to engage him. In part, this is because both candidates are second-generation politicians who are not given to plain speaking. The debate formats make this worse by allowing the candidates to avoid confronting each other's views and philosophies. The result is a campaign that seems rather boring.

But the trillion-dollar lie is serious stuff indeed. During the debate, Vice-President Al Gore said that Governor George W. Bush was proposing to spend the same trillion dollars twice. He said Bush had proposed taking a trillion dollars out of the Social Security trust fund while at the same time promising the trillion dollars would still be there to pay-promised Social Security benefits.

The truth is a bit more complicated, however. The federal government, with the concurrence of both parties in Congress, regularly steals every single dollar in cash revenues that is credited to the Social Security trust fund and spends it on other programs. This is reported as a "surplus." To date, Congress has taken $855 billion from the Social Security trust funds.

Bush has proposed that we stop letting the federal government spend the Social Security surplus on other programs by depositing every dollar of that surplus into new individual social security accounts that belong to their owners. This would create real investments that earn a real rate of return.

The proposal doesn't take a single dollar away from future benefits because none of the surplus is currently set aside for future benefits. The federal government simply spends the surplus. Sure, the paper balance of the Social Security trust fund increases every year, but no assets are ever deposited in the bank. The only thing that increases is the size of the federal government's promise that it will pay back the trust fund with future taxes.

Perhaps Bush refused to engage Gore directly on this issue because he didn't want to expose a disturbing fact. Both parties have colluded in stealing $1.9 trillion from federal trust funds over the course of many decades, saddling future taxpayers with almost two trillion dollars in hidden debt that is not even listed as part of the official federal debt.

The dollar amounts involved are staggering and the lead-time needed to implement sensible solutions is long. If real remedies are delayed for another four years, these unfunded liabilities will dominate and overpower our other pressing national problems. The need to address a growing underclass that is handicapped by a lack of education and hindered by ongoing racism will be ignored as the federal government takes over an increasing share of the national economy to fund our retirees.

Confronted with this challenge, we must chose between two candidates who are running for president in large part because their fathers were major political figures. Given Gore's trillion-dollar lies, we are left to hope that a timid Bush will somehow learn to lead the nation while in office. It's a slim hope. If Bush learns to confront the Social Security and Medicare funding problems directly, then he will be free to face the significant problems of racism and the underclass. But those problems will require a depth of courage and moral leadership that may not come easily to someone of his comfortable background and upbringing. So we also need to pray.

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