USA Today editorial suggested Bush's Social Security plan would have defused "underfunding time bomb"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In an editorial, USA Today suggested that President Bush's proposal to "partially privatize Social Security" would have addressed the program's "underfunding time bomb, set to detonate in about a decade." But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, even the administration has acknowledged that its plan for private Social Security accounts -- on their own -- will do nothing to address the "time bomb."

In an August 14 editorial, USA Today falsely suggested that President Bush's proposal to "partially privatize Social Security" would have addressed the program's "underfunding time bomb, set to detonate in about a decade." The editorial was commenting on the "divisive legacy" of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, who had announced the day before that he will leave the White House on August 31. According to the editorial, "Democrats demonized" Bush's proposal, "and congressional Republicans, smelling a loser, never even offered a major bill. So the Social Security underfunding time bomb, set to detonate in about a decade, continues to tick." But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted (here, here, here, and here), even the administration has acknowledged that its plan for private Social Security accounts -- on its own -- will do nothing to address "the Social Security underfunding time bomb."

From a February 2, 2005, White House background briefing:

QUESTION: If I could follow up on a couple of questions that have already been asked -- can you give us a second 10-year estimate on the revenue effect? Can you tell us how you would pay for that, in the first 10 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.

As Media Matters has documented, Bush proposed allowing workers to divert up to 4 percent of wages (about one-third of their payroll taxes) into a private account, removing it from the money available to pay Social Security benefits for current retirees. This diversion would create a large gap between revenue and the funds necessary to cover the government's obligation to current Social Security recipients. This gap would continue until the death of all recipients born before 1950, who, the administration said, would see no change and "receive their full benefits." Vice President Dick Cheney has acknowledged that the cost of covering this shortfall would be in the trillions of dollars.

From the August 14 USA Today editorial titled "Architect of Bush's victories leaves divisive legacy":

The self-taught college dropout stunned Democrats and achieved legendary status among Republicans by engineering George W. Bush's election in 2000 and re-election four years later. In between, Rove helped manage the first off-year election gains in both the House and the Senate by a presidential party since 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's Democrats did the same.

Rove often boasted that his real goal was to leverage electoral success into an enduring Republican dominance that would last long after Bush had left office -- much as FDR's New Deal and the advent of Social Security changed American politics and ushered in decades of almost unbroken Democratic control of Congress.

But electoral brilliance is only the ticket of admission to Washington, where leadership and legislating are what count. There, Rove's legacy is far less glittering. Unlike political consultants who fade away after the election, Rove played a dominating role in Bush's domestic policy efforts. The same slashing, divisive tactics that Rove perfected in winning elections came to characterize Bush's legislative efforts, to far lesser effect.

After a single big, bipartisan success at overhauling education policy with the No Child Left Behind law, Bush tacked hard toward his base and largely abandoned his campaign promise to be a "uniter." Rove's brand of hardball enraged Democrats and helped sharpen the minority party's instinct to confront the Republican president. That might have been inevitable; what wasn't was the way Rove's lack of deference also alienated congressional Republicans.

This came back to bite when Rove tried to sell the administration's big second-term initiative, to partially privatize Social Security. He cast it not as an end itself but as a tool for building the GOP majority. Democrats demonized the plan, and congressional Republicans, smelling a loser, never even offered a major bill. So the Social Security underfunding time bomb, set to detonate in about a decade, continues to tick.

Posted In
Economy, Social Security
Network/Outlet
USA Today
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