Sunday, February 06, 2005

Why we took up arms

Apologies for the dearth of posts -- mostly, I was having a great time at Vericon with the strange and wonderful creatures that compose the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

In a discussion about Social Security, conservatives on Max and Liz's blog were enquiring about "the constant impulse for Dems to so easily dismiss anything Bush says." They're right that Democrats have stopped being the cuddly bipartisans they were when some of them backed the Iraq war resolution, No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Harry Reid says that Bush's Social Security privatization plan won't get a single Democratic vote in the Senate. I remember hearing that Democratic strategists were studying 1993-1994 GOP opposition to the Clinton health care plan to map out their strategy for the next two years. That's what we're seeing now.

Part of the reason why Democrats are united against Bush is that he's repeatedly betrayed any Democrat who tries to cut a deal with him. Ted Kennedy voted for NCLB because he thought it'd give more money to schools, but the White House didn't allocate the money as they had promised. Kennedy also negotiated a version of Bush's Medicare bill and tried to persuade Democrats to sign onto it, but Republicans changed the bill in conference committees after Kennedy had voted for it. (There's also the fact that the White House was lying about the total cost of the bill. They originally claimed it would be less than $400 billion, but revealed two months after the bill's passage that it'd be around $535 billion.) Lots of Democrats voted for the Iraq War resolution because Bush had given them reasonable expectations about what would happen over the next few months. They thought Bush would use the war vote to force Saddam to admit UN inspectors, hold off unless the inspectors were being thwarted, and engage in military action only after assembling a coalition reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War. But just as Hans Blix was in Iraq discovering minor banned weapons and forcing Saddam to destroy them, Bush launched his invasion with under 10% of the allied troops his father had.

After being cheated again and again, Democrats got wise to the game. Now they're pretty sure that weird things will get packed into the Social Security bill in conference committee after versions pass the House and Senate, and that any wiggle room given to the Executive Branch in implementing the bill will be used in mad ways. (Sheer anger at being cheated may also have a role.) The proposal* is a pretty bad one as it stands, too -- long-lived people and bad investors can run out of money and be left in poverty, there is no possible situation where Social Security needs saving and the proposal successfully saves it, and it looks like people currently under 55 will be facing severe benefit cuts. Given that there's no imminent crisis here, Democrats shouldn't rush to patch together a compromise package. If any adjustments needed to be made, they can be made by the Edwards administration in 2009 or maybe the Obama administration in 2019. (Okay, optimism.)

Democrats have no reason to be bipartisan. There isn't really a problem to solve, Bush's proposed solution is awful, and Democratic attempts to improve the proposal would come to nothing. Their best course of action is to start blasting away immediately with a focused message that will make moderate Republican Senators fear supporting the bill. If this fails, Democrats filibuster. It won't be pretty, but if we do it to save Social Security, America will support us.

*As I researched the post, I realized that the administration simply hasn't put forward its entire plan yet. In arguing against it, I'm going off of the little bits that have been separately revealed.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

I'll add a few supporting comments:

-In the list of bipartisanship fouls, let's not forget the Department of Homeland Security, a Democratic idea it took Bush forever to come around to, which was then loaded down with ridiculous union-busting regulations to make Dems vote no. A lot of Dems lost seats over this in 2002, profoundly unfairly.

-As has been persuasively argued elsewhere, it is indeed the case that Bush is trying to undermine the Social Security system; if you look at some of his most strident supporters (Cato, Norquist, etc.) they've been talking about this for years and sometimes even let it slip now.

-Current argument on the merits is largely focused on the backgrounder from before the state of the union, which did outline some reasonably specific things, and the Commission to Save Social Security's plan 2.

-The big reason the administration can claim to need benefit cuts of any kind (and they're 40-50%) are needed is that they seem to be implicitly claiming that they're going to default on the bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund. Since the fund continues to be bought and paid for out of payroll taxes and would have to be repaid out of income taxes, this constitutes hundreds of billions of dollars of upward income redistribution (not to mention its dishonesty and unconstitutionality).

-There's also always the "name any Bush domestic policy I've heard of or should have heard of that's not a horrible boondoggle" challenge (referenced elsewhere; I think I heard it first on DeLong); since every single piece of Bush domestic legislation has been so horribly FUBARed from the perspective of actually achieving its putative goal, there's no earthly reason to support any of it. This is, of course, a more extreme version of the rule to consider policies not as they are or will be but as current and future Congresses will inevitably screw them up, but seems to hold water to me.