WHILE THERE is surely a shortage of money in the Social Security coffers, there is no shortage of nonsense being disseminated about how to deal with it. The latest contribution comes from the Democratic National Committee, which has mailed out an urgent message asking people to contribute immediately to an "emergency campaign" to save Social Security from the "Republican special interests who really don't support it."
The wise recipient of this solicitation will keep his checkbook firmly in his pocket. The last thing that is needed now--just as delicate negotiations on a bipartisan compromise are in full swing--is another wave of mass hysteria over the threats--both real and imagined--to Social Security's own security.
In fairness we should note that the Republicans invited retaliation by their equally ill-timed campaign mailing urging people to cast "ballots" for various ways to dismantle the Social Security system. But the most charitable interpretation we can think of for the Democrats' misbegotten missive is that it is simply a last attempt by the DNC to raise money with what has been its most lucrative campaign issue.
A far more damaging--and, we hope, unworthy-- interpretation would be that the planned campaign is a signal that Democrats aren't really interested in a compromise on Social Security at all. Despite the fact that Democratic leaders in Congress are now bargaining over the details of a reform package, you might read the DNC's mail-out to suggest that the party would rather go on campaigning against the administration's previously botched reform attempts all the way to the 1984 elections.
That would be a great disservice to everyone. The Democrats are right to counteract right-wing horror stories that claim Social Security is in imminent danger of collapse. But they are wrong to suggest substantial reforms are not urgently needed or that there is no immediate possibility of a sensible solution.
The bipartisan Social Security commission has documented the need for changes and developed a long list of possible reforms. A decision on a final plan has been stymied by reluctance on the part of the White House, and hence also of key congressional leaders, to indicate what they are willing to support. Nonetheless key commission members from both parties are continuing to try to work out a balanced program that can be brought to Congress with bipartisan support. Those efforts should not be imperiled by attempts to cash in on what should be a dying controversy.