MSNBC analyst and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan falsely claimed that President Bush's plans to partially privatize Social Security would address the program's fiscal shortfall "down the road," and that Bush has said as much. In fact, although Bush has suggested that private accounts will be part of the solution, a White House official has acknowledged that the administration's proposal to let workers divert payroll taxes into private accounts will do nothing to address Social Security's long-term revenue shortfall, as Media Matters for America has noted. Rather, Bush's plan will likely attempt to deal with the solvency of the program through substantial cuts in guaranteed benefits.
During a February 10 town hall-style meeting in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Bush claimed that private accounts "coupled with other reforms" will help ensure Social Security's solvency:
BUSH: Personal accounts alone will not solve the problem. But personal accounts coupled with other reforms that fix the problem will make it more likely a younger worker is going to get the benefits that the government has promised -- closer to the benefits the government has promised. And that's important.
Yet in a White House briefing before Bush's State of the Union address, a "senior administration official" admitted that private accounts will do nothing to address Social Security's long-term revenue shortfall. From the February 2 White House background briefing:
QUESTION: Can you give us a second ten-year estimate on the revenue effect? Can you tell us how you would pay for that, in the first ten years' revenue loss? And am I right in assuming that in the way you describe this, because it's a wash in terms of the net effect on Social Security from the accounts by themselves, that it would be fair to describe this as having -- the personal accounts by themselves as having no effect whatsoever on the solvency issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the second point, that's a fair inference.
That basic fact was also reported by The Washington Post on February 4: "[T]hose [private] accounts will not close the projected $3.7 trillion gap between Social Security benefits promised over the next 75 years and taxes expected to be collected. That gap would have to be closed through benefit cuts that have yet to be detailed."
From the February 14 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Does this [Bush's proposal] fix it, though? How would personal accounts fix the long-term shortfall on Social Security, the fact that we have so many more people retired than working than we -- in terms of the ratio?
BUCHANAN: Well, I think down the road. But in the short term, it is going to cost an awful lot of money.
MATTHEWS: But who says -- who says in the long term it is going to fix the problem?
BUCHANAN: President Bush.