Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Rope-a-dope scenario #2: The personal accounts-or-bust tactic

The other day, I suggested that personal savings accounts may be a ploy designed to force other reforms on Social Security. But suppose President Bush holds firm on private accounts as recent reports would suggest. For much of the Left, Social Security is not in crisis and, even if it were, the projected shortfall is less than the cost of President Bush’s tax cuts. The obvious implication is that we should raise payroll and/or income taxes to prop up the “greatest program ever.”

Suppose President Bush responds: “OK, we’ll restore the old tax rates to help soften the budget shortfall starting in 2018. And we’ll increase the payroll tax by 2% with the provision that the 2% will be used exclusively for private savings accounts.” Holy crow, how would the Democrats respond to that ju-jitsu?!?

My feeling is their reaction would be exactly the same as this exchange with the president of the National Education Association when confronted with the issue of school vouchers. That is, the ultimate goal for the Democrats is always to keep Americans from controlling their own destiny and forever dependent on the government. On the other hand, President Bush understands that if the door were opened for personal, transferable savings accounts, the political pressure to expand the “ownership society” would only grow. As George Will writes today, the Democrats are intent on standing in the way of the choices that define the modern generation:

Be that as it may, last week Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times reported that the DLC, and Third Way, a new group of centrist Democrats, will oppose any plan to permit the diversion of a portion of payroll taxes into personal accounts. Congressional Democrats seem almost solidly opposed to allowing Americans the choice of personal accounts. These Democrats are putting themselves in opposition to the high value that contemporary Americans, and especially young people, place on "autonomy." So Democrats are on a collision course with the constituency that is the vessel of their hopes: voters 18 to 29 are the only age cohort John Kerry carried.

So beyond their desire to deny the president any substantial victory, what are Democrats thinking? If Democrats are thinking that people are more interested in security than choice, they still have to convince young people that unreformed Social Security is secure. Are Democrats thinking that there is no political price to be paid for being completely negative, offering no idea except the status quo? If Democrats are thinking that proposing changes in Social Security is politically dangerous, they should stop licking their wounds and consider how they got them.
Since blind opposition to Dubya has been a big winner for the Democrats over three election cycles, they’ve decided that they should try even more obstructionism. (Go Howard Dean!) Meanwhile, President Bush will be speaking to the ever-expanding “investor class” about choice and financial freedom.

No comments: