Where Social Security Stands
So, a lot of things I've been writing about have come to pass in terms of Social Security. I'm not bragging, mind you. A lot of these things are no-brainers. But, I guess now's a good time to take stock of where we are.
Good news: Bush's private account plan is unpopular both with the public and with congress.
Bad news: It doesn't matter to Bush. He's trying to create the illusion of choice, not actual choice and he's setting up a debate that ends with people supporting private accounts, grudgingly or not.
Why this has happened: Remember everybody saying that Bush made a real blunder by saying that private accounts did nothing to make Social Security solvent? I know I snickered. Guess I'm not as clever as Bush.
He put the private accounts idea on the table and then said it didn't solve the problem. On Thursday, he offered a solution to the Social Security problem that involves cutting benefits for anybody who makes over $20,000 a year (yes, Bush has declared us all wealthy -- enjoy) and keeping them the same for anyone who makes under $20,000 a year.
That's probably not going to be too popular either. Telling voters who make $20,000 a year or more that they'll have to get by with less isn't something congress people will want to do. Of course, they're not saying it the way I said it. They're saying that they're "slowing the rate of the growth in benefits for the wealthy" and that they're "giving greater benefits to the poor." Note that when they say "greater benefits to the poor" they mean "greater than what the rich get" and not "greater than what they get now." But, all of this language is deliberately confusing. What Bush's plan amounts to is an across the board cut in Social Security benefits. What he wants you to think it amounts to is the country banding together and making a minor sacrifice to help the poor. I think it's possible that folks will fall for Bush's line. So, say Bush wins on this Social Security fix.
Kind of. Except that everybody who made over $20,000 a year will quickly realize that they just cut their own Social Security benefits. Now what are they going to do?
Voluntary private accounts! But, do they really have a choice?
See, a debate that should be about the merits of our current system vs. the merits of a private system has been warped. Bush says private accounts are a "choice" but they're not a choice between social security as it is now and something else. Bush is going to make you love priavte accounts by making them the only option for getting back the money he's going to cut from the regular system.
In the end, you will choose to have a private account. And, since your Social Security benefits have been reduced, the account won't do anything for you but hopefully get you to the level of benefits promised in the first place.
But, hey, what more do you want? You make over $20,000 a year, you're rich anyway!
This is a convoluted post, but it expresses the rhetorical gymnastics of the anti-Social Security crowd and how they got us here.
This is Bush's gambit -- can he trick the electorate into letting him slash Social Security benefits and then make them run to private accounts to make up the short fall?
He can probably pull it off. Bush is not a man to misunderestimate.