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Oh Jesus

Sometimes, I think that Newt Gingrich, for all his awfullness, was at least a semi-serious person about policy matters, unlike a certain president. Other times I read this New York Times story:

One group of Republicans is pressing the administration to make the accounts as big as possible, preferably permitting the investment of all or nearly all of the 6.2 percent levy on wages that individuals contribute to Social Security. (Under all proposals, employers would continue to pay an additional 6.2 percent tax on each employee's wages up to a wage cap that this year is $90,000.)

Many of the same Republicans have also come out forcefully against a proposal to deal with Social Security's long-term financial problems by reducing the part of future retirement benefits that would come from the government.

Um...awsome! How about the "Yglesias Total Fiscal Freedom Plan." Under this plan, workers will be permitted to contribute not only their 6.2 percent payroll tax, but also however much income tax they happen to pay, to personal retirement accounts. The government, meanwhile, will fund itself with the 6.2 employer portion of the payroll tax, along with the corporate income tax, and fees for fishing licenses on national parks. Needless to say, though this will deprive the government of the vast majority of its revenue, there's no need to cut expenditures.
[T]he approach has been embraced by some other high-profile Republicans, who say it would be a bold move to harness the power of markets to address social and economic issues and would in the long run leave the nation in much stronger financial condition.

"The president should go for a very large account because it's going to take exactly the same amount of energy to get a large account as a small one, and you get a dramatically bigger reward with a large account," said Newt Gingrich, a Republican and former House speaker. "And anything that changes benefits on an involuntary basis will allow the Democrats, the AARP and the unions to beat our brains in. It isn't politically doable."

Ah, yes, a "bold move to harness the power of markets to address social and economic issues." The markets in government debt, that is. What if the congress passed a law indicating that the government should borrow $30,000,000,000,000 and buy a Scion xB for every US citizen? To be sure, $30 trillion isn't actually enough to cover 270 million Scions at sticker price, but you could probably get a bulk discount from Toyota if you started purchases on that scale. Certainly, it's a bold plan. And the cars are not only aesthetically innovative, but fuel efficient, and remarkably roomy given their small road footprint. Think about it. Free stuff for everyone!

At any rate, that's an ill-tempered rant. The political moral here, to be explained at greater length tomorrow on Tapped, is that Bush don't have the votes for his plan. Hence the desire by chickenshit Goopers to try and line up support for this lunacy. But the lunacy don't have the votes either. If the Democrats stick together, Social Security elimination will die the death it so richly deserves. If they start to go wobbly, the nervous Republicans will regain confidence and it likely will pass.

January 6, 2005 | Permalink

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Tracked on Jan 6, 2005 12:54:55 AM

Comments

"is that Bush don't have the votes for his plan"

Premature. They will go to wall on this, they are gamblers who have contempt for your reality-based community. They make reality.

Bush will risk all. Bush will go on National TV and say whatever he has to say, whatever outrageous lies, whatever unfounded accusations.
If necessary, he will bomb Syria, maybe nuke Iran.
He will stake his Presidency and the viability of the Republican Party on this issue. The point is not necessarily SS, but who is in charge around here, who is master and who is slave.

And his opponents will cave.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 6, 2005 12:58:51 AM

"Sometimes, I think that Newt Gingrich, for all his awfullness, was at least a semi-serious person about policy matters, unlike a certain president. Other times I read this New York Times story:"

Newtie is a semi-serious person about policy. If the goal is to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to let Social Security wither on the vine, then the details don't really matter that much.

The crucial thing is the destruction of SS, not the details of the plan that replaces it. Once again, the goal is destruction, not creation. They don't need a replacement plan that works.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 1:02:32 AM

"Premature. They will go to wall on this ... And his opponents will cave.

Like many on the left, you confuse a President's freedom of action on foreign policy with his freedom of action on domestic policy.

Bush can bomb any country he wants. But he's going to find the destruction of SS to be a far more difficult accomplishment.

---

Take a look at history. Other than tinkering around with the tax code, there's been almost no important domestic legislation passed since the 1966 elections.

Clinton's welfare refrom and Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit have been the most notable exceptions, and both are notable for being aimed at the opposition's base.

---

Bush may well end up passing some major SS legislation if he lowers his ambitions to something palatable to the AARP, and thus to a significant chunk of Democrats.

But the odds are very much against him being able to pass anything like what is currently being floated. And if Bush and Rove have lost their minds enough to "go to the wall" for what is currently being floated, they'll manage to lose the House in 2 years, after losing the legislative battle. I doubt they've fallen that deep into hubris.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 1:21:08 AM

"they'll manage to lose the House in 2 years, after losing the legislative battle"

Lord, I am tired of unfounded optimism, and the misunderestimation of Bushco. Everyone was so certain that the deficits, or the economy, or torture, or Iraq, or bad polls, or whatever was going to wake up the American people and drag Bush down.

I am not giving up, like most of the Democratic leadership appears to be doing. But Krugman was on this three years ago. These are not normal politicians doing normal politics. And all the old rules and analysis actually get in the way.

If the Democrats and moderates want to save their country, they have to risk losing everything. Everything. I suggest reading Dave Neiwert at Orcinus. This will get violent. And the more we try to postpone or mitigate the violence with submissive wetting or delusional optimism, the worse the violence will be.

And Roemer is just James Buchanan, the last whimpering plea before the war begins.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 6, 2005 1:38:05 AM

"Lord, I am tired of unfounded optimism, and the misunderestimation of Bushco. Everyone was so certain that the deficits, or the economy, or torture, or Iraq, or bad polls, or whatever was going to wake up the American people and drag Bush down."

Speak for yourself. Any astute observer knew the administration couldn't be stopped on Iraq or the tax cuts. Any astute observer knew the Kerry campaign was a coin flip at best.

This is a very different fight on very different turf. And it's our home turf.

"I am not giving up, like most of the Democratic leadership appears to be doing."

Huh?

"If the Democrats and moderates want to save their country, they have to risk losing everything. Everything."

Thank god people like you aren't running the Party.

In the American political system, there's nothing more dangerous than deciding not to play defense when you're in the minority. There's nothing more dangerous than deciding that it's no worse to be a 40% party than a 48% party.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 2:17:15 AM

George W Bush is an addict. He is addicted to federal debt and deficit spending. And the Republican Congress are his pushers. Like all addicts, he tells increasingly extravagant lies to justify each successive fix: the first tax cut, the second tax cut, the third tax cut and this current fourth tax cut (the private accounts plan) were all sold with wonderful sugar-plum fantasies of increased growth, employment, investment, etc. When the fantasies from the last fix wear off, he just pursues the next fix with increased fanaticism.

This is not about creating an "ownership society". An ownership society is what we were creating under Bill Clinton. Under George W Bush, we are creating a debt & bankruptcy society.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Jan 6, 2005 2:23:00 AM

Clinton's welfare refrom and Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit have been the most notable exceptions, and both are notable for being aimed at the opposition's base.

Hm, well, I thought that second one was really aimed at the Rx companies.

Posted by: Toadmonster | Jan 6, 2005 2:31:01 AM

"Hm, well, I thought that second one was really aimed at the Rx companies."

In substance, yes. But in terms of politics and rhetoric, it was answering a longstanding demand of the left.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 2:43:36 AM

This is a very different fight on very different turf. And it's our home turf.

I'd like to share your optimism, Petey, but the current Democratic party hasn't shown me much in the way of effectiveness lately. I don't doubt at all that the folks in office calling themselves Democrats could foul it up badly enough to let GWB destroy SS and call it saving it. Indeed, if SS "reform" doesn't pass, it will because of Republicans other than Bush chickening out over long term fears.

And the Bushies really aren't just your run-of-the-mill politicians. They really are a new breed.

But here's to hoping your right.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Jan 6, 2005 3:27:46 AM

"And the Bushies really aren't just your run-of-the-mill politicians. They really are a new breed."

No. They're not some new breed. They're just a mildly effective political machine operating with a narrow national majority who want to do things we think are horribly wrong.

They haven't done anything out of the ordinary for an administration controlling Congress - dictate tax rates and have a free hand overseas.

---

"Indeed, if SS "reform" doesn't pass, it will because of Republicans other than Bush chickening out over long term fears."

Given the fact of Republican control of both House and Senate, that goes without saying, no?

The Democrats' problem isn't some mystical lack of effectiveness. The problem is they're finding it difficult to assemble 51% of the electorate, given the conservative national mood on values and defense.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 3:45:58 AM

You're off by a factor of ten on the scions. They would cost more in the vicinity of $3 trillion.

Posted by: [email protected] | Jan 6, 2005 5:23:16 AM

And Roemer is just James Buchanan, the last whimpering plea before the war begins.

Man, this is so right.

The maximalism of the current Republican party reminds me of nothing so much as the hubris of the southern Slavocracy after the Dred Scott decision. Because they had won a 7-2 vote in the Supreme Court, they really thought they would be able to impose slavery on an increasingly abolitionist North.

Democrats, and Progressives more broadly, have to assume the perspective of the 1850s Republican Party: we support fundamental issues of human dignity and social justice, and no compromise is possible with those who seek to destroy our rights.

We have to see SS as a Bushite wedge, a coldly calculated attempt to destroy the whole notion of activist government.

Posted by: litho | Jan 6, 2005 6:45:29 AM

Social Security is still the Third Rail of American Politics. And they cannot possibly put a plan into place before numbers roll in showing that doing nothing results in graph line ( I ). Trust Fund Ratios

I will never understand defeatists like Bob. We were two points down and had the ball on the three yard line against the defending Super Bowl Champ (war-time President with 91% approval rating) with a lackluster quarterback and time ran out on us. The solution is not to fire the coach and dismantle the offensive line that brought us so far.

Social Security is a total winner for the Democratic party. That electrified Third Rail is right on the edge of an electoral cliff and Republicans are marching right (or Right) towards both.

The dialog on Social Security has been advanced an incredible amount in the last two months. We have the numbers, they have rhetoric honed fine in 1992 (when they had the numbers) but ridiculous today.

Per the Trustees of Social Security, which comprise three Bush Cabinet Secretaries and three Bush political appointees, 2.2% average productivity growth more than funds the Trust Fund forever. The economic model that produces the 2018 and 2042 results so freely tossed around presupposes 1.8% growth in 2005. All we need to do is hold their feet to the fire. Get them to commit to the growth numbers of the Intermediate Cost alternative or abandon the use of 2042.

Make privatizers bring numbers. Refuse to accept any argument they make until they give their own estimate of future economic growth. Measure that estimate against the official models.

They can't win. Unless we let them. Because they don't have the numbers. Consider the graph line linked to above (fully funded Trust Fund with 5 year reserve). Then consider that the economic model that produces it never calls for economic growth above 2.2% in any year between now and 2080. Then further consider that these numbers will roll in whether they pass a legislative package this year or not. Educate yourself and prepare for an epic battle that no amount of media dominance and ruthless tactics allow the Right to win.

We have the numbers: 2004 Trustees' Report: Economic Assumptions

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Jan 6, 2005 9:04:57 AM

"They can't win. Unless we let them. Because they don't have the numbers"

Yeah sure, and Saddam did 9/11 and had WMD, and the Bush tax cuts created a bunch of jobs and paid for themselves. After four years you still think facts and truth matter, and will win the day. You are saying "nice doggy, good doggy" to a rabid Dobermann.

Tom Disch once described an SF fan as someone in arrested development who thought reason should and did rule human affairs. Passion rules;power rules;violence(metaphorically, of course) rules.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 6, 2005 10:04:16 AM

"Yeah sure, and Saddam did 9/11 and had WMD, and the Bush tax cuts created a bunch of jobs and paid for themselves."

But the difference, of course, is that they had the votes for the tax cuts and Iraq...

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 10:18:55 AM

When the boobs vote against their own interests because a spoiled airhead of a president mouths banal pieties, it's hard to be an optimist. The best hope now is for the Democrats to be ready with credible plans for "relief, recovery, and reform" (to use the catchphrase about the New Deal), when the bottom drops out of the economy.

As the late economist Herb Stein (an honest and honorable conservative--where did they all go?) put it, "If a trend is unsustainable, then that means it will stop". The staggering deficit, combined with it's staggering rate of increase means something's gotta give, and soon. The dollar's continuing fall means that one fine day, the world will wake up and realize that the U.S. is no more capable of repaying all those Treasury notes than Argentina was. Already, there are reports that the international drug trade now prefers to deal in euros. What happens when OPEC does the same?

When the administration flops about spastically because reality has failed to conform to their ideological delusions, THAT is when the Dems must hammer the Republicans, and conservatives in general with sufficient force to discredit both for a generation or more. Voters MUST link their collapsing fortunes with the Bush administration despite the thunderstorm of smear and spin that will ensue. (Expect bald appeals to racial animus a la Willie Horton or worse to make a comeback.)

Posted by: Gradgrind | Jan 6, 2005 10:44:20 AM

You know what we're gonna see on the nightly news in less than a month? Old, uppity African-Americans defending Social Security by making over-sized claims to what they are entitled. And local news will run exposees on Social Security waste, fraud and abuse. And glowing profiles of super-patriotic white seniors living in an Arizona RV park who are trying to send back the Social Security checks they don't need ("It's just too much money," one says) and the ossified SSA bureaucracy (headed by an overweight black woman) that is threatening court action unless the seniors cash the checks.

By all this I mean that the campaign is already scripted and ready to go. And if you think it's gonna begin and end with speeches about "saving" the program and long-term actuarial projections, you haven't been paying attention over the last 10 years. The Rove apparatus will unroll a second front to make Social Security very, very unpopular--just another wasteful government program. By the summer, people you know are gonna tell you they think the idea of sending out umpteen million government checks a month is obscene.

Petey is right, to an extent. This OUGHT to be a gift to the Dems, playing into our base and remonding people that the Democrats have made millions of lives much, much better. But the Democratic leadership is living in the past and have yet to show that they know how to handle a coordinated multilevel campaign. If a "reform" plan were to go to a vote today, I'm sure it would lose, but by June or July, I'm willing to bet that the bill will not only be worse than any of us can imagine, but that it will get 62 votes in the Senate.

Posted by: jlw | Jan 6, 2005 11:26:22 AM

"Old, uppity African-Americans defending Social Security by making over-sized claims to what they are entitled. And local news will run exposees on Social Security waste, fraud and abuse."

Happily for us, SS is about the last government program to find attack faux news attack spots.

There is basically no waste, fraud, or abuse. The program is terrifically efficient, with almost no overhead. Since the program has carefully avoided taking on any aspects of a welfare program, them scary black folks don't benefit from their lower income levels.

The program was crafted and maintained to survive just the kind of attack it's about to undergo. And it's a sturdy ship.

"But the Democratic leadership is living in the past and have yet to show that they know how to handle a coordinated multilevel campaign."

We really don't know how well the current leadership is going to fare, as they're all new in their jobs. But even if we include the Daschle/Gephardt years, they haven't performed that badly as a minority. Bush hasn't been able to accomplish anything yet that is unusual for a President with a working majority in both House and Senate.

And if this campaign is going to be won, it's going to require more than just the efforts of Reid and Pelosi.

Outside groups like the unions and the AARP are going to have to use some muscle out in the country. Some of the old 527's are going to have to raise some dough, or new 527's will have to pick up the slack.

The other side is planning on spending a lot of money, and we're going to need some kind of parity, or we WILL lose. My only fear is that no one is doing the fundraising job that Harold Ickes did over the past two years.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 11:52:53 AM

Petey sez: "Happily for us, SS is about the last government program to find attack faux news attack spots.

"There is basically no waste, fraud, or abuse. The program is terrifically efficient, with almost no overhead. Since the program has carefully avoided taking on any aspects of a welfare program, them scary black folks don't benefit from their lower income levels."

But you're missing the point. The truth doesn't matter--and thinking that it does is so, so reality-based. The talking points will be issued, the one-in-a-million taken-out-of-context stories will be identified and delivered to Chris Vlasto and Lisa Meyers and the anonymous minions of FNC, and all your point pounding about the efficiency and equity of Social Security will be looked on like the ranting of the mad. They can make the reality. I mean, if the past 12 months hasn't provided enough proof of this, I don't know what will.

In 2006, the GOP will be campaigning on a Homeland Security adjunct: National Wallet Inspectors. By the end of the year, 50.8 percent of the voting public will be clamoring for it. What? You don't want your wallet inspected? Are you hiding something?

Posted by: jlw | Jan 6, 2005 12:25:33 PM

"But you're missing the point. The truth doesn't matter--and thinking that it does is so, so reality-based."

Of course the truth doesn't matter in these kinds of struggles. But politics do matter. And unless we get massively outspent, the politics will be on our side in this fight.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 12:31:14 PM

Social Security is a total winner for the Democratic party. That electrified Third Rail is right on the edge of an electoral cliff and Republicans are marching right (or Right) towards both....

Make privatizers bring numbers. Refuse to accept any argument they make until they give their own estimate of future economic growth. Measure that estimate against the official models.

They've already brought numbers. Doctored numbers. Numbers contrived to buttress whatever distraction they're playing this week. It's easy to bring numbers when you can pull them out of your ass. Dems will never win that way.

Bob McManus is right. The GOP is a different crew from any we've seen in the post-war era. They don't waste their time worrying about appealing to the frontal lobes. They've realized that it's the brainstem that wins elections. Libs have gotta play by the same rules. Seizing the vocabulary would be a good place to start. Are Dems talking about Social Security elimination or Social Security Enronization, or are they still going along with the loaded terms 'reform' and 'privatization'?

Posted by: sglover | Jan 6, 2005 1:39:54 PM

I'm a historian.

Posted by: Newt G | Jan 6, 2005 1:48:24 PM

"Bob McManus is right. The GOP is a different crew from any we've seen in the post-war era. They don't waste their time worrying about appealing to the frontal lobes. They've realized that it's the brainstem that wins elections."

Sounds pretty damn similar to Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the Elder to me.

The only thing new I see is that none of those Presidents had a congenial Congress to work with.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 6, 2005 2:00:48 PM

Petey sez: "Sounds pretty damn similar to Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the Elder to me.

"The only thing new I see is that none of those Presidents had a congenial Congress to work with."

Actually, Petey, this doesn't sound terribly hopeful to me.

The Democrats really never had an answer to Nixon or Reagan at the Presidential level, and only beat Bush I because a quarter of the GOP base defected to a third party. At the legislative level, even those Democratic legislative majorities were unable to move forward much in the way of domestic legislation.

But I think that the gradual evolution of the GOP noise machine (Pat Buchanon and Bill Safire to Michael Deaver to Newt Gingrich to the current crop) has outstripped any changes the Dems have made--hell, HAVE the Democrats upgraded in the last 30 years? I'm not sure any of the professionals on our side could craft a winning message to save their lives.

You believe that the politics of this issue are on our side, but I think you underestimate how totally the conservatives now dominate the message field. No one will bring up the politics that so favor us. Or they will be shouted down. The message field will be flooded with fake statistics, misleading anecdotes, threatening symbolism, and false choices.

A vital opposition party capable of seizing the opportunity could use this issue to destroy governing party, much the way Gingrich et al. mau maued the Clinton health care plan in 1994.

A vital opposition party could do that. Instead, all we have the Democrats.

Posted by: jlw | Jan 6, 2005 2:33:27 PM

"You're off by a factor of ten on the scions. They would cost more in the vicinity of $3 trillion."

i was hoping to be the first to comment on this ... maybe those harvard jokes they tell at MIT aren't so far from the truth. ;)

Posted by: no blogger left behind | Jan 6, 2005 2:37:17 PM

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