Monday, November 12, 2007

Freddie Shows Why He's Ready

While Hillary Clinton pretends to have a "Social Security plan" until anybody tries to actually pin her down on the details (i.e. massive, economy-crippling tax increases), her rightful 2008 Republican general election opponent has done both her and his timid GOP nomination rivals one better by coming up with an ACTUAL plan, REPLETE with detail, and that is a plan that can actually work:

Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson [Satu]rday proposed slowing the growth of Social Security benefits and creating voluntary, government-matched savings accounts, becoming the first candidate of either party to offer a detailed proposal to fix the nation's retirement system.

Thompson's plan draws on ideas favored by conservatives: a reduction in benefits, rather than an increase in payroll taxes; and a shift toward private accounts, rather than government-provided payments. As a result, the proposal drew immediate criticism from liberals, who said it would severely reduce Social Security benefits, especially for low-income older Americans who rely most heavily upon them once they reach retirement.

Under Thompson's plan, Americans would be offered the option of contributing an extra 2% of their salaries to a retirement savings account. As with many corporate 401(k) plans, the government would contribute $2.50 for every dollar that an individual saved, up to a maximum of $12,000 per year.

To pay for the savings accounts and to help keep Social Security solvent, Thompson would change the way benefits are calculated. Over the next fifty years, benefits would grow much more slowly under Thompson's proposal than in the current system.
To borrow an environmentalist term, the Thompson proposal would make Social Security sustainable while providing a more stable, reliable, and lucrative safety valve for those of us who do not wish to pour an eighth of our gross pay (counting the employer half) down a bureaucratic rathole.

You know this is a good idea from the "storm" it's already generating from the Left. The next vice president of the United States, Barack Obama, calls the Thompson plan "a broken promise to America's seniors" and says all we need to do is [drumroll, please] impose "higher taxes on higher-income Americans" to "shore up Social Security for generations to come." Except, of course, that that's what was tried a generation ago, in 1983, and all it did was just kick the can down the road a couple of decades. Obama's (and Hillary's) tax hikes would have to be orders of magnitude larger to attain the same result, which would have a far larger recessionary impact. They would not be politically sustainable any more than they would be economically sustainable. But once they were imposed, the damage would be done, and their repeal would be a lot more difficult than anybody may be assuming.

This is why I think the Thompson proposal will be anything but a "third rail," as the Admiral frets. Ed speaks of "the beating George Bush took after he won re-election for offering a mix of privatization and benefit recalculation." But if you'll recall, when he submitted his Social Security reform plan, he refused to even start arguing for it until the Democrats "came to the table" with a "good faith" plan of their own so that a grand "bipartisan dialogue" could be conducted. It was his foolishly naive, second term-opening attempt to re-initialize his "New Tone" gimmick, and the Democrats gave him an entirely predictable response that evidently everybody BUT Dubya saw coming: they stonewalled him. Rather than stick their own necks out and make themselves answerable for a Social Security plan of their own, they just kicked Bush's to death until congressional Republicans finally lost their nerve and fled to the tall grass. And Bush let them do it.

Had the President fought for his plan, it may still not have gotten anywhere. Or it may have made more progress than anybody imagines. Recall that there was majority public support for Bush's private accounts concept, particularly amongst younger voters (generally under the age of forty). There's an entire "investor class" out there that we keep hearing about, all of us with IRAs and 401(k)s who know bloody well that there isn't going to be any Social Security for US when we hit whatever the retirement age is when we arrive at the dusk of our lives. From our perspective, Bush threw out the idea of privatization and then left it twisting in the wind like a pinata, and even handed the Dems a big supply of sticks.

FDT isn't taking a passive approach. "[Social Security] is unsustainable as presently constituted, and everybody knows it." Indeed it is, and indeed they do. This is a full frontal assault on the Donks' stubborn "Social Security is fine" denial mantra. It is what a majority of Americans have been waiting for SOME Republican to finally come out and say and continuing saying. It's going to fire up the GOP base, and the enthusiasm will flow considerably wider than that.

And if I'm wrong, and Fred gets beaten to a pulp over it instead while his fellow 'Pubbies stand mutely by and watch, well, at least no conservative can ever say that there wasn't a GOP candidate who lacked the balls to actually fight for what the Party purports to believe in - and packed a lot bigger set than those grassrootsers who proved to be far more hat than cattle.