Monday, December 20, 2004

Call for a Hard Line on Social Security

The Democrats don't just need to keep their caucuses overwhelmingly together on this issue. They need to avoid even a single defection in the House or the Senate. From what I hear from knowledgable sources this is already pretty close to doable in the House; and probably no more than three or perhaps four are even in play in the Senate.

Such unity has the obvious advantage of giving Republicans less breathing room in putting together majority votes in both houses. But it does much more than that. Making the elimination of Social Security a strictly Republican gambit raises the political stakes dramatically. Many Republicans will be far more cautious without bipartisan cover. Democrats must deny them even the thinnest of fig leaves. Making it a strictly Republican affair will also provide valuable clarity in the coming election, rather than the muddled picture created by Democratic defections on the 2001 tax bill.

Still another important benefit is the boon it will give to Democratic morale and energy in opposition. The coming debate over Social Security could become an engine for unity or disunity for Democrats. And the leaders of the party should be doing everything they can right now to lay the groundwork for making it the former rather than the latter. And party unity is the place to start.
The Social Security "crisis" is manufactured; there is no crisis. To the extent there are long-term financing problems, the president's plan will gravely worsen them. The problem we face isn't over Social Security, which continues to run up huge surpluses (just as it was intended to under the early-80s reform), but that our non-Social Security budget continues to run massive structural deficits. Or rather, it has returned to running massive structural deficits after getting into the black in the late 1990s through the combined exertions of a Democratic president and a Republican congress. Social Security isn't the problem, but rather George W. Bush's reckless fiscal policy.

In any case, as I say, the whole thing is lies.
Democrats should consider pulling together the major funders of the party, the official committees, the major organizations, basically the entire infrastructure of the Democratic party and making clear to individual members that if they sign on to the president's plan to phase out Social Security, those various institutions and individuals won't fund their campaigns. Not in 2006, not ever.

Similar committments can come from voters, activists and volunteers. And free rein to primary challengers....

Next, as we've discussed before, this isn't a debate about 'reform', 'privatization' or 'saving' Social Security. It's about phasing out the Social Security program, or not. Framing it any other way concedes half the battle before the fighting even begins.

-- Josh Marshall, 12/15


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