6/03/2007

Social Security and immigration

In fiscal 2001, President Bush used the Social Security lockbox that Al Gore cherished throughout the 2000 presidential campaign. By the end of the current fiscal year, Mr. Bush will have spent more than a trillion dollars in Social Security surpluses over the last five years. And he recently submitted a five-year budget plan (2008-12) that proposes to spend $1.2 trillion more in Social Security surpluses. Moreover, according to the latest trustees' report, the present value of Social Security's unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years is $4.8 trillion. Redeeming an additional $2 trillion in current trust fund bonds will almost certainly require dipping into general revenues, which would squeeze government operations everywhere else, including national security. Thus, the present value of Social Security's 75-year shortage is $6.8 trillion, and it's rising each year.

In a fiscally catastrophic environment like this, what's another $207 billion? Well, as former Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen once said, "A billion here, a billion there -- pretty soon it adds up to real money." By several orders of magnitude, a $100 billion here, a hundred billion there . . . So, yes, $207 billion is real money.

Thus, the Bush administration should think twice about the U.S.-Mexico Social Security totalization agreement, which would have the effect of transferring an estimated $207 billion in Social Security assets by 2040 to 1.6 million Mexican workers and dependents. The majority of those cash benefits would go to Mexicans who worked illegally in the United States. According to a recent study by TREA Senior Citizens League, a Social Security advocacy group, $207 billion represents the price tag of paying Social Security benefits to (a) 827,000 aliens from Mexico who used "non-work" Social Security numbers to work illegally in the United States; (b) Mexican citizens who overstayed their visas here and worked illegally; and (c) illegal aliens from Mexico "who entered the United States illegally on or after Jan. 1, 2004, and worked for at least 18 months," provided that immigration amnesty passes and they gain work authorization.

Beyond the Social Security benefits that would be collected by Mexicans who worked here illegally, their dependents "are also eligible for benefits and could increase the cost of totalized retiree benefits by as much as 50 percent," the TREA Senior Citizens League study asserts.

If Mr. Bush goes forward with his intention to sign this agreement, either chamber of Congress has 60 days to reject it. Both bodies should exercise that duty. In the meantime, as the ill-advised immigration "reform" bill makes its way through the Senate, the appropriate amendments should be passed to prevent illegal aliens from making Social Security's precarious finances worse than they already are.

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