Carly Fiorina misses a golden opportunity and doesn’t understand the Social Security shortfall

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By Timothy Imholt PhD

Carly Fiorina recently had a chance to put all the republican candidates on the defensive and missed it. She struck out.

How did this happen?

I was recently in the audience at an event hosted by Scott Brown with Carly Fiorina addressing a crowd of a few hundred individuals, some supporters, as well as some potential supporters, all hoping to be able to see her talk and perhaps ask a question or two of their own.

One of the hardest, so far undDSC01864iscussed problems, the next President will face is what to do about Social Security. I know the old joke, give it to old people. Ok, yes, let’s do that. Here is the problem. There never has been a social security trust fund. That thing is a myth.

The way the system works is that today’s retirees are paid by today’s workers. I do not begrudge people this program, as they paid into it when they worked. So please don’t say I’m against it. I think it is there, it exists, and as such we need to pay attention to the thing to make sure it is functional.

Here is the issue. The deductions coming off of every working American’s check going into the program fall around 10% short of what is currently being paid out. That is as of late 2015. That number, according to CBO projections, only gets worse every year from this point forward into the foreseeable future.

She got the question from an elderly gentleman who was concerned that the check may get cut, stop coming, or annual increases could become a thing of the past.

Admittedly this is a very hard problem to solve, but Carly had no idea what to do. It was like she didn’t see this one coming, although it has been in the news for a long time.

Her answer (I will paraphrase) rambled around and become a political non-answer. It was also strange to listen to it at something called the DSC01857No B.S. Backyard BBQ, but we will let that go.

She started by saying that American’s by a large margin now think that the Federal Government is corrupt. That percentage is so large she said that we can’t even start to dig into that problem until American’s faith is repaired.

Hey Carly, how about fixing problems as a way to restore that faith…just a thought.

Second, she said that she would sit down with American’s of all ages to see what they want and expect out of that program.

Ok, sure, that’s a nice way of saying something people want to hear while you figure out where to go next.

The final part of this answer was that there are a lot of proposed solutions out there about the Social Security shortfall filling these huge binders. She said that after restoring American’s faith in government, and asking them how much they want to get paid from the Social Security program (ok those were my words, she said ask American’s what they want out of the program, which in my mind amounts to how much do you expect to get paid.) Then she will sit down and figure out which of those plans best solves the problems.

Hey Carly, if those plans worked, and Congress would pass them, they would be in place. Also, ask Mitt Romney how well comments about binders full of something goes over with the voting public.

The remainder of this answer was some mention of zero based budgeting (which I think is a good idea). However, diving into a talk about the main governmental budget when talking about Social Security also seems like a bit of a ramble, but we shall leave that alone.

The only conclusion I can draw from these rambling answer is that Carly has no idea what to do about the shortfall in this program or any other for that matter. She couldn’t bring herself to say we need to cut this, or cut some other program and beef this one up. The only other option is raising taxes or the retirement age. But she avoided saying anything bad opting for a rambling non-answer.

Now, I will be the first to admit that a fix to this particular problem is not easy or painless. Mentioning that the fix will cause pain to voters will not make her popular so perhaps it was best to dodge the question I would have preferred someone who used to be a CEO to put it on the line. Say we have four potential things (maybe there are more these are just examples):

  • raise the retirement age
  • increase SSN taxes
  • means testing for payees
  • raise the retirement age

Let her, or any other candidate, come out and say some combination of those things will have to happen and then let the other primary candidates answer the “hey Carly Fiorina said” question from the press. Instead a golden opportunity was missed and we are still not talking about one of the larger problems facing the aging population.

Hey Carly (and everyone else in the field on both sides of the political spectrum), leaders have to face uncomfortable questions. Be a leader, get a plan on this subject, put it out and make it part of the discussion. Americans like leaders. The way you answered this question did not say much in my mind to your leadership skills when it comes to the difficult to cope with solutions. Not all answers will be popular if you are a good leader, that is just part of the deal. All candidates must understand that situation, and you as well as most of the others, so far are avoiding the toughest ones.