Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Vote on U.S. Social Security revamp may be delayed

This is a Reuters article:

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N13656091.htm

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - Congressional action on one of President George W. Bush's top priorities, restructuring Social Security, will likely be delayed until later this year, Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Wednesday.

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third ranking House Republican, told reporters that other pressing matters including trade, highway and energy legislation will push back until at least September consideration of plans to establish private Social Security accounts.

"We've got heavy work to do on the floor this month," Blunt told reporters, adding that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, a key figure in Social Security legislation, also has a big role to play in the other issues before the House.

Lawmakers had talked about voting on revamping Social Security before lawmakers leave for the month of August. But Blunt said he thought the House would vote on Social Security legislation this year, possibly in September.

Thomas has been crafting broad retirement legislation that would include incentives for savings as well as a pared-down plan for individual Social Security accounts.

The California Republican took issue with Blunt's assessment on timing of House action, curtly telling reporters that "some of us are capable of multi-tasking."

DISPUTE OVER TIMING

The dispute over the timing underscores the difficulty Republican leaders face in trying to restructure Social Security in the face of solid opposition by Democrats.

Bush has proposed allowing workers to put a portion of their Social Security taxes in accounts that would be invested in stocks and bonds. But Bush has had trouble building public support, and Democrats have demanded private accounts be taken off the table before they negotiate with Republicans on shoring up the retirement program's long-term finances.

House Republicans are backing an alternative that would use temporary Social Security surpluses to finance smaller accounts that would initially be invested only in U.S. Treasury bonds.

The pared-down plan was offered last month as a way to build support for individual accounts by tapping public anger over Social Security surpluses being used to finance other government programs and mask the size of the deficit.

Senate Republicans are also struggling to bring Social Security legislation to a vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa plans a crucial meeting with his fellow Republicans on Thursday to decide whether a bill was possible.

"If there is not some clear movement on personal accounts tomorrow, then I think the chances of having a meeting the last week of July to work on Social Security will not come about as I had planned," he told Iowa reporters on Wednesday.

Grassley said even if committee Republicans reach agreement on legislation, they may not move forward in the face of solid Democratic opposition to individual accounts.

"The lack of bipartisanship gives a lot of Republicans cold feet to move ahead," he said.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

On Second Thought....Never Mind

Yesterday I wrote about a new plan that was going to be proposed by GOP Senators DeMint, Santorum, and Graham to take the current Social Security surplus and use it to pay for the transition to private accounts. I noted a number of reasons as to why this was a bad idea that wouldn't solve anything in terms of Social Security solvency - and it would mean some sort of spending cuts or tax increases to offset that diversion from the overall Federal budget.

They hyped it up over the weekend, and were going to do a big press announcement today....but it has now been cancelled.

I guess they figured it was a bad idea, but they also must have realized they each had the chance to vote to stop spending the surplus years ago. They decided at the time it was better to use that money to fund tax cuts for the uber-wealthy. Here's some information provided by the DSCC on this:

Santorum Repeatedly Voted to Raid the Social Security Trust Fund. In 1999, Santorum voted against keeping Congress from dipping into the Social Security surplus to fund tax cuts that benefit special interests and the wealthy. He also voted against an effort to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security by restricting new congressional spending on programs or new tax cuts until Congress passes legislation to preserve Social Security. In 2003, Santorum voted against strengthening Social Security by trimming tax cuts to provide $1.2 trillion to the trust fund, and against creating a $396 billion Social Security reserve account to strengthen and protect Social Security over the long term in order to ensure its stability in years to come. [Vote #236, 7/30/99; Vote #59, 3/24/99; Vote #58, 3/18/03; Vote #93, 3/25/03; Vote # 201, 5/23/03]

Graham Voted to Raid the Social Security Trust Fund. In 2003, Graham voted against strengthening Social Security by trimming tax cuts to provide $1.2 trillion to the trust fund, and against creating a $396 billion Social Security reserve account to strengthen and protect Social Security over the long term in order to ensure its stability in years to come. A few months later, Graham voted to kill an amendment that would prevent use of the Social Security Trust Fund to pay off any of the federal debt. [Vote #58, 3/18/03; Vote #93, 3/25/03; Vote # 201, 5/23/03]

DeMint Voted Against Ensuring Social Security Solvency. In 1999, DeMint voted against an amendment that called for no new net tax cuts or net new spending until legislation is enacted that addresses the solvency of the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds. The amendment specifically called for saving all of the surplus -- both the Social Security surplus and the non-Social Security surplus -- until the issue of Medicare and Social Security solvency is addressed. [House Vote #76, 3/25/99]

So now what? I think guys like Santorum have drunk way too much of the privatization Kool-Aid to back off, and he's got too much political captial invested in getting private accounts to walk away from the idea. He was Bush's very public frontman on this issue. Santorum has to run for re-election this year, and his polling numbers are not good. He can't afford to compromise away private accounts...but he'll likely blame obstructionist Democrats for the plan's failure. Now Dems need a plan to counter those claims.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Hail Mary Approach to Privatization

I guess the GOP is looking to Doug Flutie for inspiration on their final plays on Social Security privatization. With the President's plans all but dead on Capitol Hill, three true believers are not giving up and plan a press conference on Tuesday to discuss an even bolder and more bone-headed approach to force people to accept private accounts. Senators Santorum, Graham, and DeMint will be presenting a plan to use the current Social Security surplus to fund the transistion to private accounts.

This will be unpopular from day one for a number of reasons:

1. That money currently gets thrown into to the overall Federal budget to pay for other pork projects programs, so Congress will have either cut spending or raise taxes somewhere else.

2. Most people think that the Social Security surplus is in some sort of "lock box" and not currently spent on regular stuff. Congress doesn't want to open that can of worms.

3. The surpluses will run out in about 10 years, and the long-term solvency problems will still exist..as do the fundamental problems with private accounts.

In a Washington Post article describing this plan a GOP propoganda minister staffer acknowledged the problems with the plan and was quoted:
"No one is going to find a magic bullet. There's going to be real pain at some point."
Of there is a difference on whether the pain from the magic bullet is when your brother shoots you in the butt with a bb gun or if you get clipped with with a semi-jacketed hollow-point from a military assult rifle.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Looking for a Graceful Exit

From today's Washington Post:

Exit Strategy on Social Security Is Sought
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/15/AR2005061502300.html

The writing's been on the wall for a while now, but it looks like the plan to divert money from Social Security from private accounts is just about offically dead. I think that is a good thing, as the plan Bush proposed would have increased the overall debt and would actually cut benefits for about 70% of people who get benefits. We'd almost be better off doing nothing with that sort of plan.

However, it is sad that both sides dug themselves into positions that make any real reform impossible. There is no way Bush will abandon private accounts, he spent to much of his "political capital" on that plan and those who had his back on it would be left out hang in the next elections. Basically, there's not enough support for private accounts, but not enough support to move forward without them. So now nothing gets done...and the lingering problem get passed off to yet another President. (Remember Clinton tried to fix this back in '97.)

In a perfect world we could raise taxes a little, make a few benefit cuts, and encourage more Americans to open 401(k)-type accounts (NOT paid for with SS funds). Fix Social Security, give people the opportunity to build a nest-egg and let Bush and Pelosi declare victory and go campaign on the issue. The way it is now, it's up in the air (in my opinion) as to who really benefits:

Democrats: Yes, they stood up and stopped the President's plan (good) but they never offered a real plan of their own (bad). Bush and the GOP can make a "obstructionist" agruement that might have some legs in 2006. It's the whole "Well, at least we tried something" message.

Republicans: Many stood up and backed Bush on the private accounts that the public overwhelmingly rejected (bad). However, the message points of doing something and giving people more control over their funds still is good and they can ask Democratic opponents "what was your plan?"

We'll see how this shakes out over the next year...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Not Much New to Write About

Social Security reform has seemed to stalled. I'm happy that the President's crazy plan to privatize the system through going into massive debt seems to be a dead horse, but I'm not totally happy with the Democrats either. It was good to stand up, stay united, and stop Bush from using his now depleted political captial to gut the system - but there are some issues with Social Security that do need to be dealt with. It's like a leaky roof, not too hard to fix not - much more expensive and painful after a number of years.

Still, it seems neither side is going to do anyting this summer on the issue:
Social Security in Limbo
The Hill, June 1, 2005

House Republican leaders are aiming to pass many bills this summer, but Social Security reform is not one of them. In an e-mail sent to GOP aides and lobbyists late last week, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) office outlined its list of “priority legislation” on the post-Memorial Day calendar.

In the same issue of The Hill Dick Morris brings up the whole "gang of 14" in the Senate and how these "extreme moderates" could bring some movement to sensible Social Security reform.
The moderate revolution can extend to Social Security
The Hill, June 1, 2005

Only time will tell if this group hold together. Frankly, I'd be amazed if the next SCOTUS nomination fight didn't blow that "gang" out of the water and doesn't have a straight party line vote.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Moving Past Social SecurityTalking Points?

It looks like the Senators that broke the log-jam on the judicial nominations might be looking to flex their muscles in getting some social security reform going.

Social Security is next for Gang of Fourteen (The Hill)
http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/052505/social.html

This is probably a good thing and government and legislation works best when it's from the center. If a plan comes out that Campaign for America's Future and the CATO Institute both don't like, then it's probably a good deal in the long run.

As long as the plan avoids the following it should get a serious look from most Dems:
  • setting up private accounts that divert money from the current benefit structure
  • means testing for middle class workers
  • put the government further into debt
I'm guessing any real bi-partisan reform plan will have some combination of a retirement age increase and tax increase on wealthier Americans (I don't like either one, but you gotta start with something)

Also look for any compromise plan to increase access to 401(k) type private accounts - ones that are really private and don't mingle with Social Security funds. This might be a way to get some GOP members on board and it lets them claim that they are helping people build a nest egg they can pass on. However, look for some Democrats to oppose this as it could lay the groundwork for a future assault on Social Security to divert funds to those accounts.

Bottom line is people don't save enough in this country, so anything that helps them do that is a good thing. . . as long as it doesn't undermine the current benefit structure.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

StemPAC

This doesn't have much to do with Social Security, but I wanted to help spread the word about a new PAC my buddy John Hlinko set up called StemPAC. It's aim is to "do whatever we can to educate our elected officials about the importance of sensible stem-cell laws -- and to defeat those who refuse to learn."

Here's some information, and materials to forward on to others if you are interested:


STEAL THIS AD

If you're reading this blog, you probably read others, right? Maybe you even have a blog yourself.

StemPAC

That's why we need you to steal this ad. Steal it -- and put it up on your blog. Steal it -- and ask other blogs you read to run it as well.

This is a grassroots movement, and it's only going to succeed by word of mouth -- and word of mouse. So help us spread the word. Talk about StemPAC.com with friends. Talk about StemPAC.com with family. Talk about StemPAC.com with strangers.

Spread the word. Tell the world. And start doing it right now -- steal this ad.