Sunday, August 01, 2010

If America Has a Problem, Destroying Social Security is the Answer

People say the Republican party is out of ideas? HA! Have you heard about social security privatization? You have? Oh, good. Then you're aware that it's the solution to any government problem you can name. Has been for years.

In 2005, President Bush went on the road to sell social security privatization to the public. And for once, the Bush magic failed. Unlike the major policy initiatives of Bush's first term (give tax cuts to plutocrats, start unnecessary and unwinnable wars), social security privatization went over like a lead balloon with the American people. The privatization scheme featured some of the many, many low points of the Bush administration. For example, as part of this campaign, Bush disparaged U.S. Treasury bonds. "There is no trust fund, just IOUs," the President said. Bush also suggested that without changes, the social security system would eventually face bankruptcy.

Critics were quick to point out the flaws in the Bush plan. One, his claims about the solvency of social security were false. Two, his privatization plans didn't actually do anything to improve the system's long-term solvency. So why was Bush so adamant to convince Americans to adopt a non-solution to a non-problem? Because good government is boring. Destroying the New Deal, now that's exciting!

It has always been a Republican goal to repeal everything the Franklin Roosevelt administration did to put the brakes on robber-baron style capitalism. Over the years, they've had many successes. For instance, the recent "subprime" credit crisis can be traced directly to the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had forced commercial and investment banks to remain separated. It was the repeal of Glass-Steagall that led to banks that are "too big to fail."

But while so much of the New Deal has been destroyed, social security remains untouched. It's the biggest, strongest and most popular pillar of the progressive framework set up for the country in the 1930s. That drives Republicans crazy, and that's why they can't leave the privatization idea alone.

You might think that the public's total rejection of the Bush scheme might make privatization plans go away for a while. Not so. They came back from the dead just a few months ago, as part of the Republican response to the Democratic health care bill. I find this headline interesting, because it's so accurate: "Rep. Paul Ryan to introduce alternative to health care.." Yep, Republican plans are an alternative to health care all right, no doubt about it.

The Republican alternative to the Democratic health care bill would not have insured anyone, nor reformed the system in any way. Instead, it would have been a giveaway in the form of tax breaks to a small percentage of the population wealthy (and healthy) enough to buy insurance and health care out of pocket. Oh, and one more thing: it would offer, "workers under 55 the option of investing over one third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts."

So, Republicans failed to destroy social security in the name of "health care reform?" No problem! Just bring back the same plan yet again as a solution to America's budget problems. Republican Congressman's Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America's future" would,

"reduce income tax rates on high-income households, including those earning above $633,000, while raising taxes on a significant portion of middle-class families. It would also eliminate income taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, while abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. Ryan's Roadmap would also privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, discontinue the Children's Health Insurance Program and end traditional Medicare and Medicaid by replacing these programs with a voucher system that recipients would gradually be weaned off of and onto purchasing their own private health care which, according to Ryan, would provide "low income Americans with financial resources to buy their own health care coverage like everyone else."

I could probably write several articles on why Congressman Ryan's "roadmap" would be a national catastrophe, but let me put that aside. My point in mentioning the plan is this: it's clear that Republicans are not really planning to campaign on it, or to to make it the law of the land if they win control of Congress. As Mark Schmitt of the American Prospect noted this week,

"the only serious plan they have, Rep. Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" gets no stronger endorsement than "It's a pretty good list of options" from (House minority leader John) Boehner, and Ryan himself apparently told an audience at the Brookings Institution that Republican candidates were "talking to their pollsters, and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'" That's not surprising, since the plan privatizes Social Security, turns Medicare into a voucher program, and raises taxes on the middle class. But it's the only actual plan they've had since the beginning of the Obama administration."

Furthermore, Schmitt notes that in contrast to the ambitious Republican Congress of the 1990s,

"The current Republican Party lacks a similar basic, manageable agenda. It's all or nothing. And the GOP no longer seems to have the capacity to get policy plans developed into legislation that is written, negotiated, and signed into law. The GOP has made a political choice to cut off a lot of its policy capacity. That's why it has no budget plans other than Ryan's super-unpopular one. It's why it didn't come up with any meaningful alternative to health reform. It's not because Republicans are dumb -- although Boehner and his allies were no match for Nancy Pelosi in a battle of tactics and determination -- but because offering an alternative would mean negotiating, finding areas of agreement and disagreement."

So there you have it. Republicans love the power, prestige and wealth that comes from getting elected to Congress. But they have no interest in creating a well-run government, because that would involve being pragmatic and making compromises, not to mention a lot of time away from the golf course. These people are not public servants. They're dogmatic chatterboxes who love taking your money and giving you absolutely nothing in return.

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