Push Granny Off the Cliff?

Yesterday I got a fundraising email from the Democrats attacking “extreme” Republicans for trying to ban abortion and slash Social Security and Medicare benefits. Abortion I get: the Democrats will ride that weirdly popular horse as far as it will take them. But Social Security and Medicare? What on Earth are they talking about?

That question was answered by today’s email from Stephen Moore and the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. If you don’t get these emails, you should. Moore writes:

Nikki Haley Does Her Version of the Bataan Political Death March on Social Security

We’re surprised that so many of our friends are praising Nikki Haley – the former governor of South Carolina and UN Ambassador – for her “political courage” during the GOP presidential debate last week in Miami when she endorsed cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age.

Courage? How about political stupidity for walking right out front of a Democratic firing gallery?

The DNC is on cloud nine. They can’t believe their good fortune. Their ad consultants are already preparing a blizzard of campaign ads against those scheming Republicans for cutting Social Security to seniors. (Remember the ads about Paul Ryan pushing granny in the wheel chair off the cliff? Here we go again!)

Do you think abortion is a tough issue for Republicans? Wait until you see the carnage from GOP suggestions about Social Security cutbacks.

Will Republicans NEVER learn? Every time they talk about cutting Social Security – dating back to the early Reagan years when OMB director David Stockman said he would balance the budget by cutting Social Security COLA increases – they get politically shellacked. Over and over and over. But for some reason, the Republicans are like moths attracted to this flame.

I suppose they are trying to do the right thing. But of all our fiscal problems, the least disastrous is Social Security. It is Medicare and Medicaid that are breaking the bank, along with the general hemorrhaging of money everywhere except on defense. But Moore thinks Haley is wrong on the merits as well as being politically suicidal:

The AVERAGE Social Security benefit today is a measly $1,705.80 a month. That’s after paying 40 years of a 12% payroll tax imposed on every paycheck they earned. The GOP should be talking about how to make Social Security a BETTER deal for seniors, not a worse one.

If Congress hadn’t stolen payroll tax money (and spent it on other programs) but merely deposited the funds in a passbook low-interest savings account – retirees would be getting two to three times MORE than Social Security is promising to pay. If the money had been put into a 401k plan the monthly benefits would be five to 10 times higher.

So Moore’s team is going to come out with a plan for voluntary private retirement accounts. Because it worked so well for George W. Bush, I suppose.

There is no doubt that Social Security is a stupid program. The real question is how to get out of it. The government locks people in by taking a big chunk of their paycheck for decades, after which no one wants to hear about any reduction in benefits, even though the anticipated payout bears no relation to what the person paid in. No one with any sense relies mainly on Social Security for retirement: the Democrats who pen demagogic attacks on Republicans are all sitting on fat 401(k) accounts or government pensions.

All of that said, the immediate issue is political. It is political malpractice for a Republican to volunteer, unbidden, a suggestion that Social Security benefits should be reduced. This is one of several instances in which Nikki Haley has shown political tone-deafness, sometimes toward the conservative base and sometimes, as in this case, toward the general public.

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