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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Is Bush Playing Pin the Social Security Tales on the Obstructionist Donkeys?

I don't get this. Is the administration trying to revive Social Security reform? It's appeared twice in the last few days, once in a speech Bush gave to The Economic Club, and also twice in responses in a Q&A on the economy with John Snow - both are featured prominently on the White House web site. The Q&A is not spontaneous, the questions were emailed in advance, so their inclusion was intentional. Of course, since they chose questions on the economy such as "who decides which figure's picture goes on the money" and "why did you take away the two dollar bill?," being chosen for inclusion may not mean much. In any case, I don't see the advantage in raising a dead proposal unless there will be an attempt to include Social Security in tax reform proposals. But tax reform appears to be in enough trouble already without adding the politics of Social Security. There is one other possibility I can think of. These were discussions of how well the administration has guided the economy and the economic agenda for the future. Perhaps they didn't have enough to say and threw in the parts about Social Security to fill the void. Here's a small part of the remarks on Social Security reform made by Bush in his speech:

We ... have got to do something about Social Security and Medicare. As you know, I brought up the -- (applause.) They told me not to talk about it when I first got up here. (Laughter.) But I've been talking about it ever since I've been running for President and since I've been the President because I believe the job of a President is to confront problems and not pass them on to future Presidents and future Congresses. (Applause.)  ... I'm going to continue to talk to the American people on this issue, and insist that Congress do the right thing and work together to save Social Security.

And here's John Snow:

Jon, from NY, NY writes: Why am I still left thinking there never was a social security crisis?

John Snow Well, Jon, that’s because the crisis is in the future – the President brought Social Security to the forefront of the Washington, DC policy agenda because there is a very serious looming crisis for the system. ... The problem you’ve heard so much about will begin as cash flows for the program turn negative in 2017, and the trust fund itself will be exhausted in 2041...

And this one is interesting:

daniel, from westport, ct writes: Can you tell me how much of the excess Social Security payroll taxes -- payroll taxes collected by the government but not spent on benefits -- have been spent on government operations in the past five fiscal years? And if Social Security is facing a crisis, why were those funds spent on government operations?

John Snow Thanks for this terrific question, Daniel. The total amount of Social Security surpluses that have been spent on other programs is at $1.7 trillion today. It’s a bad habit that government has, of borrowing money from the Social Security fund and writing itself “IOUs.” I think it’s time to put a stop to that, don’t you? That’s why the President wants to let younger workers put their Social Security dollars in personal accounts – the ultimate “lock box” for their hard-earned retirement dollars. We also need to make the program solvent. Progressive benefit growth, which would bring the program about 70 percent of the way to solvency, is another important element of the President’s proposed changes...

So is this an attempt at a revival? A resurrection of privatization? Habit persistence? An attempt to capture political gain by appearing concerned and unwilling to give up on the issue? That's my guess, that it's an attempt to capture political gain and revive the labeling of Democrats as obstructionists.

Note: Looking back at the last attempt at Social Security reform, how do you rate? If you are an orange state, the president visited you and gave a speech on Social Security:

    Posted by on Saturday, October 29, 2005 at 12:39 AM in Economics, Politics, Social Security | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15)

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