Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

David Brooks on Social Security Reform

posted by Ron Beasley at 1/08/2005 11:08:00 AM


As any of you who read my rantings from time to time know I think David Brooks is an idiot. Today he discusses Social Security "reform" and starts out with at least one toe in the reality based pool; Bush's Social Security plan is dead on arrival. He has five observations which we will now look at one at a time.

  • First, many Republicans will be loathe to back a bill that has no Democratic support. They don't want to transform a big, popular program without bipartisan cover.
    So far so good, a reality based observation.

  • Second, it will be hard to get Democratic votes for a bill that includes personal accounts. Democrats oppose them for the same reason that Republicans support them: because they think the accounts will create Republicans. People who have them will start thinking like investors.
    I am not a Republican but I am an investor. When I look at my investments and see that they are still worth about 15 percent less than they were four years ago I like the "Security" of my Social Security.

  • Third, any compromises that win you Democratic votes in the Senate, lose you Republican votes in the House. For example, if Senate Republicans raise the payroll tax caps, they might get some Democrats. But they will lose House Republicans by the dozens. This is the cruel logic we are going to come across again and again this Congress. Changes that build majorities in one house destroy majorities in the other.
    Hooray!!!!Our system of government is still working the way the founding fathers intended after 200 plus years. Once again a reality based observation by Brooks.

  • Fourth, even if Republicans try to go it alone, they probably will not agree among themselves. If the White House comes out with a bill that cuts benefits, the Democrats won't have to go into opposition. Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes will already be there. On the other hand, if there are no benefit cuts, the financial markets may go ballistic. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is working on a Third Way approach to please both sides. If he can do it, he's a magician.
    Bull Moose has done a nice job of covering how the Republicans are divided on this issue. The "bugman" DeLay has made it clear that he wants no part of this hot potato.

  • Fifth, the administration is doing a poor job of communicating with members. Republicans, except at the top, feel isolated. They doubt that John Snow or anybody else in the administration has enough skill and authority to guide this through Congress.
    The administration recognized that Snow wasn't up to the job but couldn't find anyone to take his place.

Now let's look at Mr. Brooks' five point plan.
  • First, Social Security reform should liberate our kids, not shackle them. It should eliminate the fiscal overhang so they have the money to tackle the problems that will arise in their own day.
    This is the fallacy the Republicans are pushing. The Social Security Trust Fund has been building up a surplus as was intended. It invests this surplus in Treasury Bonds. These bonds should be treated no differently than bonds purchased by the Chinese, Japanese or Europeans. How are we going to "liberate" our kids from those obligations?

  • Second, the reform should be transparent, so that people can see what kind of return they are getting on the money they put into the system. People should have information about their own lives.
    Here is where Brooks takes leave of the "Reality Based Universe". When have we seen anything from this administration that was transparent? How are the Wall Street brokers going to pick our pockets if it's transparent?

  • Third, it should enhance people's control over their own retirement. In a self-governing democracy, citizens should do for themselves what they can do for themselves.
    Sorry, we already have that option. What does he think IRA's and 401K's are? Can we do more to encourage this kind of investment? Yes. Do we have to mess with Social Security to do it? No.

  • Fourth, people should be encouraged to work longer. In an age in which many live into their 90's, we should be making better use of people in their 70's and 80's.
    I don't really have a problem with this but what about the many who find themselves "obsolete" in their late 50's and early 60's? It's a little late at that point to go back to school to prepare for a new career.

  • Fifth, we need a savings revolution. The plan should encourage the nation to save more, to create more capital for America's future greatness.
    The reality is the US economy has been built on citizens of this country borrowing and the citizens of other countries saving. When people save they don't spend. What impact will this have on the economy?
After a few brief encounters with reality David Brooks returns to the same unrealistic fallacies.