Preserving Social Security should never have been all that difficult.
But it took Harry Reid to settle the issue -- at least as regards the miserably long and absurdly inappropriate debate of 2012.
"We're not going to have any Social Security cuts," the Senate majority leader said on the floor of the chamber Sunday. "It just doesn't seem appropriate at this time."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had attempted Saturday to use the "fiscal cliff" fight to advance a proposal to adopt a chained consumer price index -- "chained CPI" -- scheme that would slash cost-of-living increases for Americans who rely on Social Security and other government programs. The Obama administration had entertained the "chained CPI" switch earlier in December. But as the critical point when a deal to cut Social Security might have been made, Reid said "no."
That simple rejection of the false premises of Paul Ryan and all the other fantasists who have tried to push Social Security over the "fiscal cliff" -- and into the grips of the Wall Street speculators -- confounded the political pawns and the "expert" pundits who imagined that "entitlement reforms" (Washington for Social Security cuts) were "inevitable."
Within hours of Reid's Sunday announcement, McConnell and the Republicans backed down and it was clear, finally, that Social Security was "off the table."
Reid's firm rejection of any cuts actually moved the negotiations forward -- making clear to the Republicans that they would get no deal on Social Security.
"I was really gratified to hear the Republicans have taken their demand for Social Security benefit cuts off the table," said Reid, the wily Nevadan who has repeatedly defied political expectations to save his own seat (in 2010) and then to increase the Democratic Senate majority (in 2012). "The truth is they should never have been on the table to begin with."
But it took Reid's rejection of the Republican proposal to foreclose any more wheeling and dealing with the economic security of Americans who rely on Social Security to make ends meet.
Groups that have battled to save Social Security hailed Reid Sunday night.
"Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats are to be applauded for standing up for the American people by standing firm against cutting Social Security," said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works. "Social Security has no place in this fiscal showdown. It does not and, by law, cannot add a penny to the federal debt. Republican policymakers are wrong to try to ram through unpopular cuts, ones which are opposed by the vast majority of Americans they have been elected to serve."
Altman was right to hail Reid, who was certainly not the only Democratic absolutist in the Social Security fight but who took the critical stand at the critical moment.
Reid deserves the praise. But it is important to remember that all he did was embrace economic, social and political reality.
Social Security does not contribute a penny to the federal deficit. "In fact," as the coalition explains, "it currently enjoys a $2.6 trillion surplus that will grow to $4.3 trillion by 2025. Social Security has its own dedicated revenue stream described above. And Social Security is forbidden by law from borrowing, so it cannot deficit spend."