More on the Bucks for McCain’s War Presence

May 3, 2008 1:36 p.m.

Yesterday I noted how the long-term Social Security deficit which pundits commonly describe as a long-term fiscal crisis is projected not to cost that much more than the first 75 of John McCain’s 100 years in Iraq. And to be clear, this is not factoring the costs of the present occupation out 75 years into the future. These are the cost estimates put together last year by the Congressional Budget Office for a South Korea model in Iraq, in other words, a much smaller number of troops remaining in the country with no actual hostilities.

So whether or not it’s likely that Iraq is going to settle down into a situation like in South Korea, this is costing out precisely what McCain says he supports. Yesterday, I noted that even with the very conservative estimates the CBO used the price tag for 75 years came to $3 trillion. And that was compared to the Social Security deficit over the same period coming out to $4.7 trillion.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Every year the Social Security Administration produces a series of estimates of the fiscal health of Social Security. And to the great chagrin of the major privatization supporters the forecast for Social Security has actually been getting better for about a decade.

Normally, I’m on top of when the new estimates come out. But I guess I’ve been otherwise occupied for the last few months. And TPM Reader BW writes in to note that since the 2007 estimates, which I used above, the long-term deficit has actually gone down again. Under the 2008 tabulation, the number is now down to $4.3 trillion.

So, cost of John McCain’s long-term ‘presence’ in Iraq through 2085, $3 trillion. Social Security’s predicted shortfall over the same period, $4.3 trillion.

But there’s one other point worth noting, which BW raises. Each year, the SSA puts out optimistic, pessimistic and intermediate estimates for the program’s long-term solvency. There’s an long-standing debate about just how optimistic the optimistic scenarios are and whether the intermediate number is really the one that should serve as the baseline for political and policy discussions. But as BW notes, this year, under the optimistic or ‘low-cost’ scenario even in 2085 Social Security will still be running a small surplus.

In any case, this started as a comparison between two very distinct sets of numbers. But the take away is that even when understood precisely on John McCain’s terms, the cost of his permanent ‘presence’ in Iraq is not that much less than the Social Security shoftfall, the budgetary consequences of which are supposed to threaten the bankruptcy of the entire nation.

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