Democrats Should Welcome New Twist on Bush's Social Security Plan
In President Bush’s by-the-talking-points news conference last night, one statement stood out. Bush said:
By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire in poverty.
The White House clarified that what the President is proposing is private accounts combined with a "sliding-scale benefit formula” that would mean lower Social Security payments for future middle- and upper-income retirees than they are currently guaranteed.
Would the Democrats view this new idea as the chance to craft a compromise? Not a chance. Predictably, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid immediately released a statement saying the President’s plan would gut benefits for middle class seniors and they will continue their opposition.
This smacks of obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake. Lower income workers have a much more difficult time saving for retirement, but middle class earners and certainly upper class earners have extra income and should be expected to have the responsibility to save for themselves. And all earners would still have a chance to put into private accounts, supplementing their guaranteed benefits.
What if the private accounts weren’t compulsory but worked like 401k accounts. Those that put in get some sort of government match. Those that don’t put in can keep their money. Combine that with sliding-scale guaranteed benefits and you’re on to something. A just society should not let its seniors live in crushing poverty. But a just society has no obligation to write checks to seniors that can already afford a comfortable retirement.
The President’s sliding-scale idea provides the opening to craft a plan that could shore up the system, guarantee benefits for the most needy and provide private accounts to those who want them. With some Democratic-initiated modifications, this could actually be the best idea for saving and reforming the system.
Perhaps when the numbers are run, the President’s plan will fall short. But the Democrats should still be able to recognize an interesting idea when one is proposed. By flat-out rejecting the idea of a sliding scale, the Democrats are once again showing that they’re completely unable to get their thinking out of the New Deal/Great Society paradigm.