Why SS Is Not “Broke” And How The Trust Fund Works

For at least two decades the “very serious people” in Washington have insisted that the Social Security system is “broke”. They’ve been screaming “bankrupt, bankrupt I tell you!” for so long that unfortunately an entire generation of young people and even middle aged workers are convinced that Social Security won’t be there for them when they retire.

If true, it would be seriously problematic especially since it’s true that to some degree people are living longer (though not as much as the screamers would have you believe). The absence of Social Security would be disastrous since those same young and middle-aged people are finding it near impossible to save adequate amounts for their retirement through private savings and 401K’s. It’s not really their fault they can’t save enough since their real wages have been stagnant or declining for decades and periodic financial markets collapses like the 2001 dot-com bubble and 2008 total Wall Street meltdown decimates their feeble retirement accounts.

decorative image of "no"So let’s look at the question of the viability of Social Security. The short answer is NO. No it’s not broke. No it’s not bankrupt. And no, it’s not going broke in the future. And in fact, it cannot go “bankrupt” in the sense that most people understand “bankrupt”.  The idea that the Social Security system will collapse – will go “bankrupt” – and not be able to pay benefits to beneficiaries is simple false. It is a lie told either from ignorance or to further another less popular agenda. is

The claims that Social Security will go “bankrupt” are based upon three premises that taken together, would appear to bring impending doom.  Closer examination reveals a gross misunderstanding of how the SS system works and a deliberate attempt to play on words to exploit people’s fears. The doom-and-gloomers essentially argue that the following syllogism:

  1. SS is a retirement pension system that depends upon the monies retired workers paid in while younger in order to pay benefits when retired. This fund of monies is called a “trust fund”.
  2. The SS Trustees annual report regularly projects that the Trust Fund will be “insolvent” at some point in the future – usually 18 to 25 years away.
  3. The doom-and-gloomers twist the on woirds to transform two technical government accounting terms “trust fund” and “insolvent” to play on fears of “bankruptcy” and zero balances in retirement accounts.

In reality, only #2 above is true and it doesn’t mean at all what people think it means. The reality is that the fear mongers misrepresent how the Social Security system works. The reality is there are only two ways that today’s workers and young people will not have Social Security benefits available to them when they retire:

  • Congress deliberately decides to break promises to them and end the Social Security program for ideological or class war reasons while the program is still feasible.
  • The U.S. GDP and employment drop to zero. Nobody is working and nobody is producing anything. No food. No shelter. No heat. No nothing being sold. If that happens then payrolls drop to zero and with it payroll taxes for Social Security drop to zero. But that’s probably the least of our worries under this kind of post-apocalypic Mad Max scenario. So this isn’t worth discussing.

diagram of flow of payroll taxes through SS Administration to beneficiariesThe reality is that Social Security in the U.S. is an intergenerational transfer program. It is not dependent at all on the “trust fund”. In fact, if the trust fund were zero, zilch, empty, the system would still be able to pay benefits every month. That’s because Social Security benefits this month are paid from the taxes that workers and employers paid this quarter. Yes, it’s a basically a flow-through transfer system. We take money from today’s workers to pay today’s older people. Yes, so-called millenials (the generation currently in their 20’s) if they are fortunate enough to have found a job in this slack economy and the millenials’ working parents pay taxes each paycheck. To be precise, 6.2% is deducted from their paycheck and then matched with an equal amount from their employer’s pockets. Their tax money is sent to Washington each quarter by their employer.  That money then goes straight to pay the grandparents of those millennials (and anyone else eligible of that generation). The tax money paid this quarter goes directly to pay the monthly benefits of this quarter.

So why would today’s workers give up part of their incomes to pay money to older people?  Simple. Because it’s in their best interest and because the society, through the government, has given them a solemn promise to make sure that no matter what happens in the uncertain future the government will ensure that when today’s workers get older they will be partially supported by the next generation after them. In addition, there are numerous other benefits such as a faster growing economy, more entreneurship, and risk-free retirement accumulation, but I’ll detail those benefits in another post. The key is the intergenerational promise. As long as there are workers and payrolls in the economy, there is money to pay social security benefits. “Bankruptcy” in the popular sense of an enterprise that is no more, that is defunct, and that cannot pay anything is a lie. The claim of impending Social Security bankruptcy is fear mongering at its worst.

But you, the skeptical reader, might ask “what about the Social Security trustees’ assertions of insolvency in 15-20 years”? The Social Security Administration Trustees in their annual report do frequently report of projected “insolvency” of the trust fund – not the system itself. And “insolvency” has a specific legal definition in this context that is vastly different from the popular understanding of bankrupt or broke.

In a nut shell, Social Security is a government entitlement benefit program with a dedicated tax stream. As an entitlement program, people who pay and meet the currently legal defined requirements acquire the legal right to be paid benefits later. Because these benefit levels are legally defined, it is possible to project, albeit with a very fuzzy and changing forecast, what total benefits will be necessary in the future. At the same time, it is possible to project the future tax receipts of the dedicated tax (the FICA payroll tax) assuming no changes to the tax levels in the future and assuming a wide range of guesses about future payrolls in the U.S.  If, these projections indicate that at some point in the future the dedicated tax flow at today’s tax rate and projected future payrolls should result only enough money to pay less than 100% of the amount projected needed to pay the full currently promised benefit, then we have the technical warning of “insolvency”. The most recent report, the 2014 report, projected that this point where payroll taxes will be short of promised future benefits will come in 2033. This is a few years earlier than projected a few years ago, but that’s because Congress lowered the payroll tax for two years in 2013.

The projected “insolvency” means that, assuming all the projections actually come true (a tricky business by itself), Social Security will find itself in 2033 with payroll taxes only being enough to pay for 78% of the benefits we currently project/promise we will pay in 2033.

Even if we do nothing AND all the projections come true exactly as predicted, Social Security will continue paying 78% of the benefit that we are currently promising to people who will retire in 2033. People should keep in mind that the average benefits we are currently promising for retirees in 2033 are substantially larger in real terms than the benefits today’s average new retiree is receiving. So even if we do reach the “insolvency” point, Social Security will continue to pay benefits at a very substantial level when compared to today’s benefits. The future benefit, in real terms, would be greater than 78% of today’s average real benefit.

So what’s all this talk and concern about the trust fund? The trust fund isn’t necessary to pay benefits. The trust fund serves two purposes. The first and primary purpose is it’s the Social Security “checking account” and it’s good practice to have a cushion – especially when outgoing payments might not match incoming taxes each period. And that’s what happens. We like to keep benefit payments a level amount each month. Iimagine grandpa’s panic if the SS check changed each month! But remember that taxes are collected quarterly. The trust fund exists so we can cushion a quarterly income flow against a monthly payment flow.

However, in the last two decades, the trust fund was allowed to build up to very large balances, balances much larger than necessary to match quarterly cash inflow against monthly cash outflow. This was done deliberately. The Social Security system was facing “insolvency” back in the early 1980’s. In fact, it was at one point, only approximately 3 months from technical insolvency, the same kind of insolvency we now project is 15-16 years away. The reason for the impending insolvency in 1983 was because Congress had raised benefit calculation levels in the early 1970’s but didn’t adjust payroll taxes to sufficiently cover them. In particular benefit levels got adjustments for inflation but the payroll tax rate and the cap on taxable payrolls wasn’t adjusted.

Baby boomers pre-paid part of their own retirements by paying excess payroll taxes into trust fund in 1990's and 2000's

Baby boomers pre-paid part of their own retirements by paying excess payroll taxes into trust fund in 1990’s and 2000’s

We survived that brush with insolvency. Politicians from both parties at that time agreed to make an adjustment. They effectively doubled (approx) the payroll tax rate and phased it in. By the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the trust fund had fully recovered to comfortable levels. A comfortable trust fund level is defined as having a cushion in the “checking account” of enough money to pay 12 months’ of projected benefits. But once the trust fund recovered, we had switched to the opposite “problem”. Instead of not collecting enough taxes each quarter to cover benefit payments, we were now collecting too much in payroll tax due to the higher payroll tax rates. In effect, the Social Security system was over-taxing in the 1990s’ and up until today. The result is a skyrocketing “cushion” in the trust fund. Right now the trust fund has over $2.8 trillion dollars of US government bonds in it. That’s a “cushion” equal to approximately 4 years worth of benefits!.  That’s hardly “broke”.

So why didn’t the government lower the payroll tax rate in the 1990’s when the trust fund had recovered? The idea was that the Baby Boom generation, which was working and paying taxes at the time, would start to retire around 2010 and that for a 20-25 years, the period 2010-2035, demands for benefit payments would be higher than they would be after 2040.

Trust fund balance scenarios. A lot depends on assumptions of future growth, population, retirement age trends, productivity, and even technology. - The percent vertical axis represents the trust fund balance as a % of one-year's benefits.

Trust fund balance scenarios. A lot depends on assumptions of future growth, population, retirement age trends, productivity, and even technology. – The percent vertical axis represents the trust fund balance as a % of one-year’s benefits.

In truth the problem was not that there so many baby boomers, but rather that baby boomers didn’t have as many children as their parents. So it was decided that the baby boom generation would be the exception to the solemn promise of younger workers pay for their elders benefits. Instead, the children of baby boomers would partially pay for their elder boomer parents’ benefits and the boomers themselves would partially “pre-pay” their own benefits from their own over-tax payments in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Thus the bubble in the trust fund. It was always intended to rise way up until around now and then to deplete back down to ordinary “cushion” levels.

But now we’re facing a situation where the planned return of the trust fund to more ordinary “cushion” levels has become the basis for a fear mongering campaign designed to convince voters to accept the reduction or elimination of the very successful Social Security program. The reality is there may be a problem in 18-20 years, if all the assumptions about population, labor force participation, unwillingness to adjust tax rates, productivity, retirement trends, and real wage levels all come true. But we dealt with this problem once before when it was only 3 months away. There’s no need to move now to address a moving, uncertain problem in 15-20 years. Further, the rhetoric about “we need to cut benefits NOW in order to avoid cutting benefits in the future” doesn’t make sense.  The reality is we have many options to address, what will in likelihood be a necessary “tweak” to the system. But that is for another post.

Understanding The Social Security Trust Fund – It’s More A Checking Account and Less of A Trust Fund

Now that the Republican-Democratic budgetary battle that shut down much of the U.S. government earlier this month has been resolved  delayed for 3 months.  Once again the hope of the politicians from both sides is to achieve some kind of “grand bargain” on the budget that continues to reduce the federal budget deficit.  Now the expectations are only for maybe a two-year deal instead of the ten-year deal the President sought in 2011.  But regardless of the length of the deal, the renewed negotiations have put Social Security, and with it, the economic well-being of seniors at risk.  For example, Senater Dick Durbin, an alleged Democrat, has offered up cuts in Social Security claiming:

“Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years,” Durbin said. “The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don’t wanna see that happen.”

It is most unfortunate that Senator Durbin, along with many of his colleagues, continue to repeat what is utter nonsense.  They endanger not only the well-being of seniors in the U.S. but all of us. For many years enemies of Social Security and the Wall Street banks that lust to have siphon fees from the hundreds of billions of dollars that currently flow efficiently through the Social Security Administration have propagated the idea that Social Security is going bankrupt – that it won’t be here in 20 years.

Much of the problem comes from people only having a superficial understanding of how Social Security (or any other intergenerational transfer program) works.  Combine a superficial understanding with misunderstood and ill-defined terms and scary but shallow projections of demographics and you get fear and hysteria – exactly what the enemies of Social Security want.  There are many aspects that I could talk about, but the most misunderstood aspect of Social Security is the Trust Fund, so I’ll focus this post on explaining the Trust Fund.

The Social Security Trust Fund is, in fact, actually two separate trust funds, each with its own share of the payroll tax and its own purpose. One fund is involved in the old age and survivors benefits and the other for disability insurance.  Nonetheless, I will lump them together since that’s what most commentators do.  The root of confusion and deception lies in the names of the funds.  They’re called “trust funds”.  And since the largest fund is used in the payment of old age insurance payments, which most folks liken to pensions, they tend to assume that the SS funds work like a private, personal trust fund.  After all, we know about people called “trust fund babies”  – they’re people who live off the interest and dividends of some big pile of money that somebody (usually parents) left them.  We also know that private savings for retirement works in a similar fashion except that we put the money away ourselves during working age and then deplete the account when we’re older – and often retirement accounts are established in some sort of “trust” account.

The people who argue we need to cut Social Security benefits usually claim it is because we are going to deplete the Social Security Trust Fund at some date a couple decades into the future.  They claim that Social Security itself will be bankrupt when that happens.  This is absolutely not true and it plays on a misunderstanding of what the SS Trust Fund is, what it does, and why it exists.

The Social Security Trust Funds are not what enables benefits to be paid.  Current payroll taxes are what enable benefits to be paid, not Trust Fund balances.  Social Security is an intergenerational transfer system.  Each month workers, people who are most likely aged 18-65, and their employers pay a payroll tax.  Then that same month, the money collected is paid out to Social Security beneficiaries.  .  Under current conditions, the payroll tax amounts to a 6.2% tax on worker earnings up to $113,700.  The employer pays a matching amount.  Earnings over $113,700 are payroll tax-free. As long as people are working and getting paid, there are payroll taxes being collected and money available to pay benefits – even if the Trust Fund were zero.  The Trust Fund isn’t really necessary to the basic functioning of Social Security.  This is why Social Security can never go bankrupt and unable to pay benefits.  For Social Security to be unable to pay any benefits, the U.S. would have to have nobody working – zero employment.  If we ever get to the point where there is nobody working in the economy, we have much greater problems on our hands than Social Security – problems like no food to eat.

Social Security Receipts and Benefit Payments by MONTH.So if the Trust Fund isn’t what is funding benefit payments – what is it?  The way to think about the SS Trust Fund is to think of it as a checking account.  This graph which shows the the income (payroll taxes collected) and the outgo (benefit payments) by month illustrates the problem and why the Trust Fund exists.  See how erratic and variable the income is.  This is because it’s a payroll tax and payrolls (employment) varies enormously from month-to-month.  In November and December we employ a lot of people and pay them something extra – it’s called Christmas and bonus season.  In January and February employment drops.  So the income received by the SS Administration varies greatly too.  But this income is used to pay benefits.  But we want benefits to be relatively constant.  Grandma and grandpa should expect the payment each month.  We don’t want to have tell all our senior citizens in January  “hey sorry, but the check’s a little short this month, we’ll make it up next December”.  So what to do when the income is both variable and a bit uncertain but the payments need to be relatively constant and fixed?  The answer is to do the same thing any private individual facing an uncertain and variable income but constant outgo:  keep a nice buffer balance in the checking account.  That’s what the Trust Fund was created for – to keep a buffer balance so that monthly payments can be held constant against variable and unpredictable income.

By law, the law creating the system, Social Security cannot use general funds of the government.  It can only use the payroll taxes it collects for Social Security.  And vice versa.  Social Security payroll taxes cannot be used for other government purposes (although George W. Bush once proposed doing that).  Also by the same law, the buffer balance- the trust fund balance – is supposed to always be at a minimum of 100% of projected one year’s benefit payments.   Today, the SS Trust Fund balance is approximately 350% of each year’s benefits and it’s growing.

Why is the Trust Fund so much bigger than it is (was) supposed to be originally?  Because in the early 1980’s it wasn’t so big.  In the 1970’s Congress increased Social Security benefits by indexing them to inflation (a good move), but they didn’t increase the payroll tax enough to pay for it.  The moment of truth came in the early 1980’s when the Social Security had to dip into the Trust Fund to help pay some of the current benefits.  The Trust Fund then stood at less than the legally-mandated 100% of projected benefits.  A commission was appointed by President Reagan and Congress to develop a solution.  The resulting deal increased the payroll tax from the then 5.4% gradually until in 1990 it stood at the present 6.3%.  By the early-mid 1990’s, the Social Security Trust Funds were well-replenished and beginning to significantly exceed the 100% of benefits level.  Yet the payroll tax was kept at the 6.2% level ever since even though it has generated a significant surplus every year.  Every year since, the Trust Fund has grown as payroll taxes collected have significantly exceeded benefits paid.

Since the mid-1990’s Social Security has, in effect, been over-taxing workers compared to what was needed to pay current benefits. One option in the 1990’s would have been to cut the payroll tax slightly – perhaps not back to the 5.4% level but maybe to 5.9%.  But the decision was made to keep “over-taxing” so as to deliberately build up the Trust Funds to extremely high levels in anticipation of an eventual wave of baby boom retirements.  That has happened. As mentioned above, today’s Trust Fund includes both the 100% of benefits buffer balance and another 2.5 years worth of benefits.  The additional money will be drawn down to help pay for baby boomer retirements.  Instead of bankrupting the Social Security system, the baby boomers are effectively the first and only generation to not only pay for their elders’ benefits but to also pre-pay a portion of their own benefits.  The baby boom generation may be faulted for man things but bankrupting Social Security is not one of them!

So what about all these scary projections of the Trust Fund depleting at some time in the future?  At the present, the Trust Fund continues to grow.  All projections about the future of Social Security are subject to some uncertainty and the farther out you project the more uncertain they become.  To project the precise future balances of Social Security funds, benefits, and taxes, we need to project and know with a high degree of certainty changes in the  following:  birth rates, death rates, changes in productivity and wages, labor force participation, retirement age preferences, and even immigration.  Nonetheless, the Trustees of the Social Security Administration take a stab at updating their projection of the future for the next 75 years. In fact, they make at least 3 projections: an optimistic, pessimistic, and most expected case.  In looking at recent expected case projections, the Trust Fund will continue to grow until somewhere around 2019.  Then the “wave” of baby boomer retirements combined with expected lower labor force participation will result in monthly benefits that exceed monthly taxes collected.  Withdrawals from the Trust Fund will make up the difference to pay the promised level of benefits.  Then, somewhere a decade or so later, the Trust Fund will be back down to it’s legally mandated minimum. Of course this is only once scenario.  If the optimistic scenario happens (slightly faster economic growth between now and then, more labor force participation, and more folks delaying retirement), then there is never a problem in the entire 75 year horizon.

But let’s suppose the expected case happens, at that point a choice must be made: Reduce the benefits paid below the promised level? Or increase the payroll tax?  Or, remove the earnings cap on the payroll tax so that high-income earners pay taxes on amounts above the $113,700 cap.  How much of a tax increase would be needed?  Approximately a 1% increase in the payroll tax would make the system totally solvent and ensure minimum balances in the Trust Fund for the entire 75 year horizon.  That’s not much really.  It’s easily doable and more important, we can delay the time to raise the tax until the mid-2020’s when we have a much clearer picture.

It’s very important to realize that Social Security is not going bankrupt.  Even if we refuse to raise the payroll tax in 2030 and even if the expected case happens and we have to cut benefits in early-mid 2030’s, we won’t have to eliminate the program.  Benefit payments will still happen.  They will simply have to scaled back.  How much?  We will still be able to pay 75-80% of what we are currently projecting the benefit payments to be at that time.  And our currently projected benefits for that time period are greater in real dollars than today’s benefits because people will be earning more money entitling them to larger benefits.

Social Security is not going bankrupt. It can’t.  It will be there for my current students when they age and retire, and it will be there for my students’ kids.  The only reason Social Security might not be here is because politicians surrender to an anti-Social Security ideology and the desires of Wall Street banks to get their hands on billions more.

For those interested, here are some good references for continued explanation on this topic:

No Social Security Is Not Going Bankrupt from Center on Policy and Budget Priorities

Five Huge Myths About Social Security from Daily Finance

Why Social Security Can’t Go Bankrupt from Forbes

Social Security Trustees Report 2013

 

 

 

Social Security Receipts and Benefit Payments by MONTH.

Social Security Under Attack By Media

I will repeat:

  • Social Security is NOT in financial trouble.
  • Social Security does NOT contribute in any way shape or form to the U.S. Federal government’s deficit, now or in the future. It cannot.  If anything, it has enabled a coverup of how big the real deficit has been for years.
  • News media does not critically examine any claims asserted by the big-money folks that want to abolish, cut, or destroy Social Security (see here).

Remapping Debate along with Mark Miller document how the news media mindlessly attacks and asserts that Social Security is a deficit problem even though that claim is false. In the course of explaining, they also do an excellent job of explaining how the trust fund has operated.

Kudos to Mark Miller, a contributor to Reuters’s Prism Money blog, for his post Monday morning calling out NPR, the Associated Press, and NBC’s David Gregory for perpetuating the misleading idea that Social Security is one of the key drivers of the federal deficit.

The experts who study these things believe that, thanks to the trust fund, Social Security has enough money saved up to meet its obligations for about the next 25 years.

Thanks to the energetic efforts of deficit hawks, the notion that Social Security is a leading cause of the deficit has become part of the Beltway consensus. But, as Miller — who’s been pounding this drum for some time — points out, “the consensus is wrong, and so is much of the reporting” on this topic.

Here’s the actual situation: in the early 1980s, when Social Security was facing a short-term financing crisis, a commission chaired by Alan Greenspan recommended a variety of adjustments to the program. Those tweaks, coupled with decent economic growth, resulted in a situation in which over the ensuing decades Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits.

Rather than just put those surplus funds in a bank vault, the trustees who run the Social Security Administration took this money — it’s known as the Social Security Trust Fund — and invested it in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. In effect, over the course of nearly 30 years they lent money to the rest of the government. This was good for Social Security, because it made a little extra money on a very safe investment; the U.S. government, after all, doesn’t default on its debt. And it was good — or seemed good, anyway — for the rest of the government, which got in the habit, especially during the 2000s, of paying for new programs and overseas military adventures with borrowed money.

One consequence of this process is that the trust fund grew quite large: it’s now about $2.5 trillion. Another consequence is that the federal tax burden shifted away from income taxes — which are progressive, so that people who earn more money pay a higher rate — toward payroll taxes, where every worker pays a flat rate up to about $106,000 in earnings (amounts above that cap are not subject to the payroll tax, so the more money you earn, the lower your payroll tax rate is).

Today, for a variety of reasons, Social Security’s annual obligations have started to exceed payroll tax collections. (This was entirely expected, though it happened a bit earlier than anticipated thanks to the recession.) In a narrow sense, that’s a “deficit.” But what journalists and politicians usually mean by “deficit spending” is a government borrowing money to pay its bills. Social Security just needs to collect on the loans it has made. And the experts who study these things believe that, thanks to the trust fund, Social Security has enough money saved up to meet its obligations for about the next 25 years. So there is no real “Social Security deficit” over that period.

To the extent that Social Security has anything at all to do with the deficit, it is the fiscal imprudence of past White Houses and Congresses, not America’s commitment to present and future retirees, that is to blame.

What about after that point? Once the trust fund is spent, if there are no other changes to the program Social Security will continue to owe more than it collects. (As Miller notes, the fixes necessary to avoid this situation are modest, and do not have to include benefit cuts.) But even then, the trustees could not borrow money to make up the difference: by law the program, on net, can never have spent more than it has taken in. “As a result,” a recent paper from the Economic Policy Institute stated, “Social Security cannot and would not add to the federal deficit when its trust fund is exhausted.”

So where does all the deficit talk come from? The problem, of course, is that the Treasury does not have the cash on hand to repay what it borrowed from Social Security, and making good on those obligations will require cuts to other areas of the budget, more revenue from income taxes, or further deficit spending. It is this fact that leads many commentators — including some politicians who are generally supportive of Social Security — to link the program to the deficit.

But that problem wasn’t caused by Social Security, which has always operated in long-term balance and, unlike Medicare, faces very modest challenges in the fairly distant future. It was caused by a federal government that, with the exception of a portion of the Clinton years, was unprepared to fully fund federal programs through tax levels sufficient to pay the bills, and instead used borrowed funds to paper over the shortfall. To the extent that Social Security has anything at all to do with the deficit, it is the fiscal imprudence of past White Houses and Congresses, not America’s commitment to present and future retirees, that is to blame.

As Miller notes, this isn’t actually that complicated. But there’s an irony to his latest post correcting the record on this subject coming out Monday morning. That’s because President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal came out at almost exactly the same time, and the flurry of coverage it prompted included many more assertions that Social Security is one of the key drivers of the deficit.

Like this, from MarketWatch:

And some 800-pound gorillas are also missing: reducing funding demands for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the source of huge projected deficits in coming years.

Or this, from Politico:

But, [Hoyer] said, they’ll insist they be coupled with reductions in the Pentagon budget and a serious attempt to rein in spending on Medicare and Social Security, two of the major reasons for the explosion in the deficit that will get worse as the baby boomers retire.

Or this, from The Washington Post:

A senior administration official said Obama’s budget request maps “a sustainable path” that would stabilize government finances in preparation for a broader debate about how to tackle the biggest drivers of future deficits: Social Security and health care for the elderly, as well as a tax code that offers more in breaks and deductions than it collects in revenue.

It looks like Miller will have more fodder for another post soon.