The U.S. Treasury Department released the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports yesterday. The Social Security Trustees estimated that the “Trust Fund asset reserves” will be depleted in 2034, a year earlier than estimated last year. Setting aside important questions whether the “Trust Fund” is really a trust, and whether it really has funds in it, the present value of the excess of future payments over dedicated tax revenue increased significantly, another sign of deterioration.
We will be analyzing the implications of these reports for our estimate of the ‘true’ national debt more closely. But stepping back from that, the report included a notable continuing omission – names for the two public trustees.
There are six Trustees, theoretically. Four are selected for the positions in government, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (Managing Trustee), Kilolo Kijasaki (Acting Commissioner of Social Security), Xavier Becerra (U.S) Secretary of Health and Human Services), and Martin Walsh (U.S. Secretary of Labor).
There are also supposed to be two “public” trustees. But those positions have been vacant since 2015.
Charles Blahous was one of the last public trustees to fill that position. Back in February 2020, Blahous wrote an op-ed in The Hill titled “It’s time to seat public trustees for Social Security and Medicare.” Blahous argued:
Being independent from the administration, expert in the programs, appointed for fixed four-year terms, and members of different political parties, they have provided confidence to policymakers and the public alike that the analysis and financial projections contained in the annual trustees’ reports are objective and of the highest quality. … Not only do the public trustees affirm the credibility of the trustees’ financial reports, but they also help to communicate, in a dispassionate way, the state of the trust funds to the public.
… Most importantly, each year that policymakers delay, the financial imbalances grow and the options to fairly address them dwindle. We should not go another year without experts in these public trustee positions who will represent the public interest, provide Congress with critical information and facilitate the urgent conversations that can bring about reform.
But another year, and more, has come and gone.
Perhaps we could take this as an opportunity to truly advance the independence of the public trustee positions. Rather than choose “members of different political parties” (Republicans or Democrats), this could be a good time to cement nonpartisan, rather than bipartisan, public trusteeship.