Bush's Next Target: Social Security
Fresh from his purported victory in the Medicare drug benefit battle, the Los Angeles Times reports that the White House will use the SOTU to launch an election year push for privatizing Social Security. Of course the GOP won’t call it that, but the White House feels that with their victory on Medicare “reform”, they have the whip hand to ram through what they really want: letting individuals invest a portion of their Social Security funds in the market themselves. Let me offer what may be a contrarian analysis on this: such a move by a power-drunk White House political operation will be their election-year Waterloo.
First, using the Medicare battle and resulting “victory” will not be a good springboard for tackling Social Security. It is not at all clear that the drug plan will ever work, or provide noticeable benefits to seniors in advance of the election, which the Democrats plan to make an issue of. Plus, seniors are revolting against the AARP for the organization’s sell-out to the GOP, and the AARP will be hard pressed to support the White House a second time so soon on Social Security. Plus, there are enough hard feelings left over from how the battle was conducted that Bush can forget a bipartisan approach using targeted Democrats as fig leaves this time, like he did with John Breaux and Max Baucus on the Medicare bill.
Second, making a campaign issue of a privatization of Social Security gives the Democrats a chance to reintroduce the “Enronization” of Social Security back into the debate, which places Bush back in the middle of the issue and concerns about him regarding corporate accountability. Democrats can point out that Wall Street brokerage firms have become one of Bush’s biggest bankrollers of late.
Third, pushing such “reforms” will also allow the Democrats to specifically question how existing deductions into the Social Security trust fund can be withheld and invested by beneficiaries themselves without financially undermining the existing system to a point that benefits will have to be cut. Sure, Rove probably wants to start a generational war through this issue, by pitting younger workers against older or retired workers, but in doing so the GOP would squander any of their newfound capital with seniors. Also, the Democrats will be able to show that there is no money to plug into the trust fund to make up for the lost deductions given our budget deficits, which even GOP conservatives are scared about.
And fourth, pushing this issue will allow the Democrats to use the deficit issue against Bush and remind voters that the surplus money that was set aside and lockboxed for Social Security reform just three years ago has been squandered and spent by Bush and the GOP, who now want to pull even more money out of the trust fund through this privatization. Thus, by making a push for their privatization plan as an election issue, Bush and the GOP expose themselves to several lines of Democratic attack, including:
1. A reminder of the false promises and flaws in the Medicare bill,
2. A resumption of concerns about the “Enronization” of Social Security,
3. Reminders about the squandered surpluses and fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP and their one-party control of Washington,
4. A debate about how to pay for the reduced contributions to the trust fund, without reducing benefits,
5. A reminder about this administration’s “Pay and Play” abandonment of the seniors.
Bush and the GOP will have to defend all of this in the middle of an election year while trying to convince seniors that the party that delivered a questionable reform of Medicare can be trusted to not harm Social Security as well.
So Bush wants to get greedy and campaign on Social Security privatization next year?
Bring it on.