Monday :: Jan 10, 2005

How The Democrats Can Begin Peeling Away GOP Support For Bush On Social Security


by Steve

In Monday’s Washington Post, a Page One indicated that Democrats were pulling together to fight Bush over his domestic agenda, in sharp contrast to the willingness Democrats demonstrated four years ago to work with Bush. Notably, the story reported that Democrats were readying an all-out fight to not only challenge Bush over his Social Security privatization proposal, but to also see if an aggressive challenge to the White House over the privatization plan can force fissures amongst the GOP.

In Tuesday’s Post, there is evidence that such an approach is paying off. A Page One by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reports that there are up to 40 House Republicans who are already skeptical about Bush’s plan even before it has been released, who think that with all of the other pressing needs facing the country, tackling Social Security and selling the country on the massive borrowing to make privatization work is a nonstarter.

Most alarming to White House officials, some congressional Republicans are panning the president's plan -- even before it is unveiled. "Why stir up a political hornet's nest . . . when there is no urgency?" said Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.), who represents a competitive district. "When does the program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then."

Simmons said there is no way he will support Bush's idea of allowing younger Americans to divert some of their payroll taxes into private accounts, especially when there are more pressing needs, such as shoring up Medicare and providing armor to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), a member of the GOP leadership, said 15 to 20 House Republicans agree with Simmons, although others say the number is closer to 40. "Just convincing our guys not to be timid is going to be a big struggle," he said. "It's going to take a lot of convincing," which he said can be done.

"The politics of this are brutal," one senior GOP leadership aide said, adding that the White House has yet to convince most House members that the "third rail" of American politics is somehow safe.

Outside Congress, several party activists are sounding similar alarms after word spread last week that Bush is planning to reduce future benefits as part of the restructuring. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is warning that Republicans could lose their 10-year House majority if the White House follows through with that proposal.

"Why would you go home tomorrow having cut benefits in Social Security for a problem that might happen in 25 years?" said Gingrich, who supports private accounts but opposes benefit cuts to pay for them.

Some Republicans question whether Bush's victories had anything to do with Social Security. A post-election survey by Pew found that Social Security was named by 1 percent of voters as the most important or second most important issue in deciding their vote.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late December found that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Social Security system is in crisis, and the percentage that says the country is facing a Social Security crisis has gone down, not up, since 1998.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, is challenging the president's assertions that Social Security is in crisis and that Republicans will be rewarded for fixing it. Republicans are privately "bewildered why this is such a White House priority," he said. "I am a skeptic politically and a little bit substantively."

That’s right, Bill Kristol is against Bush’s plan already.

"I don't buy the partisan argument that Republicans benefit by somehow carving up this Democratic program," Kristol said. He contended it could undermine other GOP initiatives, such as making Bush's tax cuts permanent, because it would sap money and the president's political capital.

I think the Democrats have a great opportunity here, if they get started soon enough, to make the Republicans nervous about supporting Bush on this. As a field test for the 2006 campaign, Democrats need to target the top 25 winnable GOP House seats next year, as identified by Alan Abramowitz last week on Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising blog, and begin aiming their message locally in each of those districts that 1) it is a GOP lie that Social Security is in imminent crisis; 2) Social Security can be improved and made solvent forever without privatization and crippling debt; 3) a vote for the Bush plan is a vote for crippling debt, massive benefit cuts, and the destruction of the safety net; and 4) any GOP House member who votes to privatize while maintaining tax cuts for the rich doesn’t care about seniors and has the moral values of a snake.

A steady diet of Truth Squad activities in each of those districts over the next six months, in conjunction with groups like the AARP, Common Cause, and others will make the GOP House members in those districts think twice about backing Bush’s plan.

Steve :: 11:55 PM :: Comments (24) :: Digg It!