Why Are Some Reforms So Much Harder Than Others?
A coalition of labor organizations and liberal groups believes it can stop President Bush’s proposed Social Security reforms before they even get out of committee. They’ve targeted eight Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee that they believe can be convinced to vote against privatization of Social Security.
Right now, Republicans have a 24-17 edge on the committee so just flipping four of the eight targets would stall any reform legislation in committee. Much like Clinton’s attempt to reform healthcare, President Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security seems likely to wither on the vine. And once again we’ll hear how our Congress can’t make major reforms.
But this isn’t true. Clinton and a Republican congress made some sweeping welfare reforms. And recently we’ve witnessed major reforms in the intelligence community. Reform is possible. But it’s a lot about timing. Clinton tried to reform healthcare as we emerged from a recession and before HMOs had soured most of the nation on the current system. And now Bush is trying to reform Social Security in the midst of a hiccupping economy and in an environment where “security” is still a very important idea.
I admired Clinton for tackling healthcare (even if the plan presented was poor) and I admire Bush for tackling Social Security. But I think the lesson we may be learning is that most Presidential legacies are not forced into place. They are built on responses to problems identified not by the man in office but by the public at large or the events of the world. Or, in the case of welfare reform (or Nixon’s visit to China), they are built by a President breaking with tradition and reforming one of his party’s own policies.
Maybe Bush should tackle healthcare. Demand for reform is significant and a Republican finding a way to insure all Americans would definitely be a break from tradition. Unfortunately, it may be too late for such a bold move. I have a feeling Bush’s legacy will be nailed firmly to the war on terror with anything he achieves domestically a distant second.