In his April 3 column, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro falsely labeled the Social Security board of trustees "nonpartisan" and erroneously asserted that "[b]enefit cuts are out of the question for the Democrats." In fact, all but one of the trustees are either Bush administration officials or supporters of Bush's privatization plan, and Democrats have indicated a willingness to consider all options for addressing Social Security's solvency, including benefit cuts, if private accounts financed with payroll taxes are excluded from the plan.
Five of the six Social Security trustees who issued the 2005 report are either Bush appointees or other Republicans who have expressed support for Bush's plan. The Social Security Administration website lists the signatories to the 2005 trustees report:
- John W. Snow, secretary of the Treasury and managing trustee of the Social Security trust fund;
- Elaine L. Chao, secretary of Labor;
- Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services;
- Jo Anne B. Barnhart, commissioner of Social Security;
- John L. Palmer, economics professor and dean emeritus of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University;
- Thomas R. Saving, economics professor and director of the Private Enterprise Research Center at Texas A&M University; and
- James B. Lockhart III, deputy commissioner of Social Security and the trustees' secretary.
The conservative advocacy group Progress for America has identified Saving as an ally in its efforts to promote Social Security privatization, originally referring to him as a "spokesman" for the group before removing that title from a press release. Saving can be contacted through Progress for America "for interviews to discuss the issues surrounding President Bush's plan" for Social Security. The New York Times noted on March 24, Saving is a "Republican appointee."
Snow, Chao, Leavitt, and Barnhart serve as trustees by virtue of their positions in the Bush cabinet. The Times noted that "Democratic appointee" Palmer is "the only trustee who is not an outspoken advocate of the president's policy."
As the board of trustees' secretary, Lockhart is another signatory to the report who is an open supporter of Bush's privatization plan. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted in a March 11 column that Lockhart "has become a regular fixture at pro-privatization rallies -- and has been dispensing misinformation. Lockhart recently echoed a misrepresentation by President Bush of a statement in last year's report, telling the audience that each year that there are no changes to the program costs 'hundreds of billions.'" The Toledo Blade reported on March 3 that Lockhart scheduled at least five town hall meetings in March with Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), another strong supporter of privatization.
Lambro's assertion that "[b]enefit cuts are out of the question for the Democrats" also contradicts the available evidence. The New York Times reported on March 7: "Democrats suggested they would be willing to negotiate a package of benefit cuts and tax increases to assure Social Security's long-term solvency if the president dropped his demand for private accounts financed by the payroll tax. ... 'If the president takes privatization off, if he makes a commitment to the future of Social Security, we're ready to sit down on a bipartisan basis and put everything on the table,' Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, said on Meet the Press on NBC."
The March 6 edition of Meet the Press also aired a clip of the same view being expressed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): "We're willing to work with the president for the Social Security in the out years, when we recognize there are some problems 40, 50 years from now. We're happy to work with the president in that regard, but not until he takes privatization off the table."