WASHINGTON -- March 21 -- The 2005 Social Security trustees' report will be released this Wednesday. It is important to recognize that the projections in the trustees' report are not decided by the professional staff of the Social Security Administration (SSA), but rather by the trustees, four of whom are political appointees of the Bush administration (the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor, Treasury, and the Social Security Commissioner). One of the two independent trustees is Thomas Saving, who was a member of President Bush's Social Security commission and has been an outspoken proponent of privatization.
The professional staff prepares recommendations for the trustees, but these recommendations are not made public, nor is any record of the trustees' meeting made public. Therefore, the public cannot know the extent to which the trustees follow the advice of the SSA's professional staff in writing their report.
In 2003, the Bush administration deliberately concealed from Congress the chief actuary's projection of the cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill. If Congress had this cost projection at the time of the vote, which was 25 to 50 percent higher than the projection provided by the administration, it is possible that the prescription drug bill would not have been approved.
In recognition of this record, several members of Congress have asked Social Security commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart to make public the recommendations from the professional staff. Unless this information is available to the public, there is no way of knowing whether the trustees' report is based on expert advice as opposed to political considerations.
In contrast to the political involvement with the trustees report, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office now produces an independent analysis of the Social Security program.
For CEPR research and writings on Social Security, see www.cepr.net. To interview CEPR economists Dean Baker or Mark Weisbrot, contact us. Look out for CEPR's same-day analysis of the Trustees' report later this week.