A couple of bloggers have been commenting on various parts of George Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security. One of them is Jamie Sonnenberger over at the Detroit News, where I blogged in the run-up to the November election. The other is my former DetNews co-blogger, Steven Couch, at his excellent Blue-State Red blog. I’ve commented at both sites and I’ve been thinking on weighing in on Bush’s coming proposals for Social Security for some time, so here goes!
The big problem as I see it, for George Bush and his plan to privatize (read “eliminate” according to many) is his profoundly low credibility, where it comes to his “grand schemes.” His credibility with as much as 49% of the nation’s voters is extremely low, considering his demonstratably failed policies in Iraq and with tax cuts/fiscal responsibility. And his decision to start the national dialogue on Social Security with a big lie does not help his credibility. Molly Ivins (admittedly, an avid Bush-basher) pointed out January 13th that:
“Drolly enough, he prefaced his latest with the unlikely statement, "As a matter of fact ..." before he proceeded to do battle against truth: "... by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt."
She adds in the next paragraph:
“Let's try this again, slowly, for those who, like the president, seem to be having difficulty with reality. Social Security will not be bankrupt, will not be flat bust in 2042 or 2052 or even, as the president has also claimed, by 2018. According to the deliberately alarmist projections of the fund's trustees, it will have exhausted the trust fund in 2042. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be able to rely on the trust fund until 2052 and after that will still be able to pay 81 percent of scheduled benefits. And that's if no changes are made to the current system.”
It is not just the Bush-bashers, though, who recognize that adopting Bush’s radical Social Security proposal would damage the nation. Just today, the very conservative Chicago Tribune, which endorsed George Bush for reelection last November, printed a very long opinion piece byformer senior correspondent and business editor R.C. Longworth. Some highlights:
“President Bush has promised to make Social Security reform the domestic centerpiece of his second term in office. But this reform, to be unveiled next month, shows all the unreality, fiscal irresponsibility and overhyped salesmanship of the keystones of his first term, the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich.”
“No matter what the administration says, there is no Social Security crisis. Social Security isn't broke and doesn't need fixing. It is a system that will run just fine for 40 years, probably more, even if nothing at all is done.”
“But he had launched his campaign for partial privatization of Social Security earlier this month with a fear-mongering speech that told young workers, "If you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now. Vice President Dick Cheney followed this up by predicting "fiscal collapse" by 2042, leaving the government no option "other than to suddenly and dramatically reduce benefit payments by over 25 percent, or to impose a massive, economically ruinous tax increase on all American workers." These two statements, by the two highest officers in the land, are not even remotely true.”
The column then goes on to point out that in 1983, at the urging of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, much simpler changes were made to Social Security, and these changes helped shore up the system by creating the Social Security Trust Fund, which will continue to grow until 2019, when it will start being paid out to retirees. The column argues, rightly in my opinion:
“There's plenty of tinkering that can be done now to keep it solvent pretty much through the 21st Century.”
It then proposes several examples of “tinkering”:
1. Raise Social Security taxes, as was done in 1983.
2. End George Bush’s cap on contributions (but that would mean raising taxes on Americans who make more than $90k per year – think that’ll fly on Bush’s watch?)
3. Raise the retirement age.
The column then goes on to point out all the very real risks to Bush’s plan, and asks a lot of very hard questions, and points out some very grotesque “White House distortions” that are being used to justify Bush’s plan. The money quote from the column, in my opinion, is this:
“Of all the things wrong with the Bush plan, the worst is the outright lying that has been used to justify it.”
So, that, in a nutshell, is why I’m opposed to Bush’s plan to partially privatize, and eventually eliminate, Social Security. Team Bush cannot even make a case for the changes they propose, without resorting to lying. I would encourage EVERYONE to familiarize yourself with this issue - it goes to the heart of America, and the changes proposed by Bush promise disaster for all but the richest of us.
UPDATE: I'm having some trouble with the Molly Ivins link above - when you click on it, you'll need to scroll to the bottom of the page, and click the drop-down box to choose the article from January 13th.