Social Security is “celebrating” its 75 birthday… but there is little to cheer about since this program is running a deficit this year and those deficits will grow in magnitude in the years to come. As former Rep. J.C. Watts explains, this year should put to bed once and for all debates about the usefulness of Social Security’s “trust fund”:

When I was serving in Congress during the 1990s, there was a lot of talk about the Social Security trust fund and what Vice President Al Gore and lawmakers referred to as the Social Security “lock box.” We are finding out today just how meaningless that “lock box” is for taxpayers. It’s true that for years Social Security had excess revenues it lent to the general treasury in exchange for government bonds.

Today, the Social Security Administration can use those bonds to cover the shortfall.

Yet the trust fund is little comfort to taxpayers. When the Social Security Administration cashes in a bond, the money comes from the treasury. In other words, taxpayers are still on the hook. One government agency owing money to another is like your left pocket owing money to your right: all the money ultimately comes from you.

Let’s hope this “birthday celebration” is an occasion where policymakers take a serious look at Social Security. It’s time to admit that Social Security as structured simply isn’t sustainable. We need real reforms, including adjustments to reduce the rate of growth of benefits for future workers and raising the retirement age to keep up with life expectancy, to prevent this venerated program from being a permanent drag on our economy.