Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman


Saving Social Security


It's time to protect social security from the politicians in Washington. It will take a constitutional amendment to do the job.


Suddenly, like Houdini, the politicians are about to pick the "lock box" where our Social Security trusts are allegedly kept. Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States has a provision which, while seldom used, can stop the politicians from raiding your Social Security and Medicare trust funds. It has only been used about two dozen times in American history. But the politicians have left us no other choice.

What is this extraordinary constitutional remedy? It is contained in Article V of James Madison's handiwork (we Virginians always claim ownership, although we do admit some technical help from a handful of Northerners during that hot summer in Philadelphia).  This article details the procedure for enacting an amendment to the United States Constitution. To date, there have been 27 different amendments, the last one trying to address the huge increases in the pay, pension and perks members of Congress have given themselves in recent years.

Now, we need number 28: A constitutional amendment that takes the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds out of the misspending hands of Congress, aided and abetted by the White House. Instead, the spending of any surplus trust fund money should be controlled by an independent, non-partisan commission whose directors are chosen for their incorruptible integrity and financial expertise irrespective of political ideology.


I have chosen not to propose the actual language at this time. Rather, the precise wording of an amendment is better left to professionals trained to see through the legal chicanery of our political elite. We need to bring the best financial and jurisprudential minds together to draft language that the our politicians can't pick apart, the way they are now going to pick what they had promised was a burglar proof "lock box."

Many years ago, the legendary bank robber Willie Sutton was asked a simple question: Why did he rob banks? The answer: "Because that is where the money is". If the "three strikes and your out" law applied to members of Congress and the Senate - not only to the Willie Suttons - our trust funds would be safe and many incumbent members of Congress would be out. But picking a "lock box" containing Social Security and Medicare trust funds doesn't even appear to carry a minor political penalty these days.

We, the people, have become cynical to point of not believing in either political party on the issue of fiscal and budget integrity. We assume the worst and when we get it, the result is used to reconfirm our worst instincts. This cycle has to be broken.

Admittedly, we Democrats could try to reap considerable political gain by blaming the Republicans in control of the Congress and the White House for the situation. For sure, this strategy is very tempting and almost surely a big winner in the short run. But instead, I believe Democrats should forsake the blame game and put our full political power behind a new 28th Amendment to the Constitution that will protect these trust funds once and for all.

As expected, the Bush Commission on Social Security issued the usual report, long on moralizing about the lack of political guts of others and short on any political courage of their own.


Let's cut to the bottom fiscal line: What is missing right now is a vehicle to legally protect Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds from the fiscally irresponsible clutches of the political elite in Washington. The Bush Administration came into office with the best of intentions, but while it could talk the talk, it has been unable to walk the walk.

Therefore, I propose that we enact a new "Protect The Social Security and Medicare Trust Fund" amendment to the Constitution as our last, best hope in this matter. The Washington political elite have failed middle America.

This amendment will, in essence, remove the surplus trust funds from being used to cover up the true size of the current federal budget deficit, as such funds are now swept into the "unified budget" and thus available to pay for Uncle Sam's current operating expenses. The amendment will force the Congress and the White House to give the public a true assessment of the actual state of the nation's yearly revenue and expense ledger.

This will be true no matter which party controls the legislative and executive branches, and it will likewise be the case whether those in control want to raise or lower taxes, or raise or lower spending in any area.

The people and I supported President Bush on Iraq: let's hope he changes his mind and now supports us on this new Constitutional amendment.

-- May 12, 2003


(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2003.


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.


You can reach him at