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Posted by on Jan 6, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

The Gathering Storm Over Social Security

Clearly, Social Security "reform" is going to be a monster topic. We say "reform" because some say it is true reform; others contend the real goal of the GOP plan is an  ideological plan to basically gut it.

All this comes amid a Washington Post report that Congressional Republicans are divided on the issue and have warned the White House talk about cuts in benefits is not doing their case any good (so does that mean not talk about it, and do it later? Just asking..):

Amid deep divisions over the White House push to restructure Social Security, congressional Republicans told President Bush yesterday that the administration is damaging its legislative prospects with leaks signaling the need for deep cuts in benefits.

GOP leaders from the House and the Senate met with Bush at the White House to discuss Social Security, and the divisions were clear, according to participants.

House leaders, backed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), said the president has to issue a detailed plan to restructure Social Security and add personal investment accounts, then sell it himself before he could possibly hope to get broad Republican support.

"The president has got to lead," said Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security. "He’s got to take the bully pulpit on this and be the professor. We can be teaching assistants, but he has to be the big guy."

We haven’t decided on this issue yet. But here are several pieces that provide some interesting arguments in what promises to be a fiery debate.

Justin Delabar gives his analysis here. You need to read it in its entirety but here is a tiny portion:

If Social Security is in such grave danger, then why was a key issue during the 2000 campaign whether or not the federal government should continue to borrow money from the program? (Lockbox? Lockbox!).

Despite that, Bush is continuing in his attempts to incite panic over Social Security and its future prospects in order to push his privatization plans forward. Over the years numerous ads have been made attacking politicians of various political stripes for wanting to "gut" Social Security, even if they never suggested anything as drastic as actual cuts. Bush is suggesting actual cuts.

If this had been a Democratic president suggesting an increase in the retirement age, for instance, the Republican machine would have had the media riled up to a blind, frothing fervor well before the Democrat had a chance to explain his policy.

Currently the Republican leadership is writing the Democrats’ attack ads on this issue as they go along, so that should make the entire opposition process a tad easier for Reid, Pelosi, et all. If the GOP is able to outmaneuver the Democrats on this one then,seriously, there is no hope left whatsoever.

Indeed, over the years in nearly every campaign the Social Security issue has been talked about in the sense of "we will reform Social Security!" and nothing happened. In recent years, the Democratstalked about reforming it, and GOP talk of making changes brought accusations that the party has long wanted to end it, which its candidates have always denied.

The question is whether something that MAY be flawed is better than a change that may disembowel it. And if the White House’s prime focus is indeed on the political while it is saying it needs to "save" Social Security — as if this is one more presidential campaign — shouldn’t that be an honest concern?

–That takes us to the next person raising the red flag, Josh Marshall. He reports on internal memos that suggest a prime emphasis is political (more seemingly than just to get the saving of Social Security done)…but on winning this battle as a kind of ideological trophy. Here are some excerpts from what he quotes from a memo from Karl Rove deputy Peter H. Wehner and comments on it:

Also included is a nice encapsulated history lesson: "For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win — and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country."

So now you can see from memos emerging from the White House itself that this isn’t about ‘saving’ Social Security. If it were, what would that sentence mean — ("For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win")? The first time in six decades they can save it?

Clearly, this isn’t about ‘saving’ Social Security. It is a battle to end Social Security and replace with something that Wehner clearly understands is very different, indeed the antithesis of Social Security.

This entire debate is about ideology — between people who believe in the benefits Social Security has brought America in the last three-quarters of a century and those who think it was a bad idea from the start.

You can read the entire Wehner memo here, decide for yourself (and leave your analysis in the comments box below.)

Then, just when you think you’re making up your  conflicted mind, there’s this by Seattle journalist Matt Rosenberg looking at the case for privatization, arguing that smaller government may indeed be the best way to strengthen and improve Social Security Read it all.

Bull Moose’s discussion of the split within the GOP. It shows you the "wheels within wheels" on this issue (Bull Moose thinks the Democrats can effectively exploit GOP divisions).

John Pike has begun extensively analyzing issue here and here and he feels as he looks at the numbers that the Democrats aren’t being serious about the issue. And he also suggests this pro-Bush plan piece is a must read. Pike makes a GREAT point in his email to me: there will be three parties to this debate: Democrats, Republicans and bloggers who will fact check. (And we can already see by the varying posts that if you add the various fact checking together by various bloggers both parties are going to have to come up with some answers…unless their partisans try to ignore the other sides’ questions).

–For yet more more spirited debate, make SURE youy visit Preemptive Karma, which remains skeptical of the Bush plan but seriously zeroes in on some of the key issues being debated on this isuse.

–And then there’s this must read by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an academic turned politico who knew how to step back and look at an issue (The Moderate Voice attended press briefings held by Moynihan when TMV was based in New Delhi, India as a reporter). Moynihan was urging changes in Social Security way before any politician would seriously listen.

FOOTNOTE: We note when we read all of these excellent arguments, then sit back and think about them, it’s clear that this issue is becoming less and less about Social Security and more on each side about the motives and veracity of each party.  In other words, by the time this issue truly rolls out it could be like a re-run of the Presidential campaign….and all that entails.