Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Not So Fast

Think the GOP is in lock-step with Bush on changing Social Security? Think again.

Many Republicans are expressing reservations about the political wisdom of President Bush’s vision for restructuring Social Security, as the White House today intensifies its campaign to restructure the entitlement program for the retired and disabled.

Bush, who relishes challenging the conventional wisdoms of Washington, has privately counseled Republicans that partially privatizing Social Security will be a boon for the GOP and has urged skeptics to hold fire until he builds a public case for change. But several influential Republicans are warning that Bush’s plan could backfire on the party in next year’s elections, especially if the plan includes cuts in benefits.

Most alarming to White House officials, some congressional Republicans are panning the president’s plan — even before it is unveiled. “Why stir up a political hornet’s nest . . . when there is no urgency?” said Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.), who represents a competitive district. “When does the program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then.”

[…]

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, is challenging the president’s assertions that Social Security is in crisis and that Republicans will be rewarded for fixing it. Republicans are privately “bewildered why this is such a White House priority,” he said. “I am a skeptic politically and a little bit substantively.”

[…]

Some Republicans question whether Bush’s victories had anything to do with Social Security. A post-election survey by Pew found that Social Security was named by 1 percent of voters as the most important or second most important issue in deciding their vote.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late December found that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Social Security system is in crisis, and the percentage that says the country is facing a Social Security crisis has gone down, not up, since 1998.

“I don’t buy the partisan argument that Republicans benefit by somehow carving up this Democratic program,” Kristol said. He contended it could undermine other GOP initiatives, such as making Bush’s tax cuts permanent, because it would sap money and the president’s political capital.

Simmons said that few constituents cite Social Security as a major concern, and that numerous GOP colleagues say the same in private. [WaPo]

This may turn out to be Bush’s version of the Clinton health plan overhaul – too much too fast and doomed by politics. The difference is that in 1993 we needed a comprehensive health insurance plan, and we still do. As many people on the left and right have pointed out, we don’t need to radically overhaul Social Security any more than you buy a new car when one of the tires gets a flat. If it wasn’t for the salivating over the political blood that Karl Rove is smelling, this would get about as much attention as the last loser on American Idol.