Many of you have read Charles Krauthammer’s terrific Friday column about the politics of social security reform. Those who haven’t should. Krauthammer notes that, while President Bush is making good faith proposals to deal with the coming crisis (to the point that even Michael Kinsley is impressed), the Democrats are offering no proposal. Instead they are trying to saw off the limb onto which the president has climbed in order to achieve short-term political gain. Bush hopes that the public will give him credit for trying, but Krauthammer is rightly skeptical about this scenario. He writes, “if A accuses B of doing nothing, and B accuses A of destroying the one social program that everyone supports, who do you think wins?”
If there’s a weakness in Krauthammer’s thesis that the Democrats will win politically, it is this: President Bush isn’t going to run again. As Krauthammer notes, the Democrats are using social security to try to regain control of Congress in 2006. But I question whether Republicans in unsafe states or districts are going to be taking any risks on this issue. And I doubt that, if they distance themselves from Bush on this issue, voters will punish them.
As I have argued before, social security reform probably isn’t going anywhere now because the crisis lacks immediacy to the public. For roughly the same reason, social security reform proposals that don’t go anywhere aren’t going to influence the outcome of elections.
JOHN demurs: I’m not so sure the Republicans have the losing hand on Social Security. The poll data on the issue are all over the map. The Republicans constantly send out the favorable poll results to their supporters, and I’m sure those in Congress are getting bombarded with them. If the Democrats stick to their obstructionist position, they will alienate a) many young people, a large majority of whom are in favor of personal accounts, and b) an unknown percentage of people who believe that Social Security is in trouble–a large majority agree with this proposition–and who are acutely aware that the only ones trying to fix the problem are the Republicans. Is this a losing position for the Republicans? Not if they stick together. I suspect that the Democrats may be bluffing on Social Security, much as they are (I believe) bluffing on judicial nominations. The difference is that on Social Security, their bluff has a better chance of succeeding, because there is more likelihood of Republicans breaking ranks.
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