Congressional Republicans have faced all kinds of heat recently for their misguided campaign to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system. It’s tempting to think the GOP would not only back away from this crusade, but would also learn a valuable lesson about Americans’ appreciation for bedrock domestic social programs.
Alas, that’s not the case. A few days ago, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, a member of the House Republican leadership, unveiled the “Savings Account For Every American Act,” which would allow Americans to withdraw from the Social Security system and opt into a privatized system.
Of course, with Social Security functioning as a pay-as-you-go program, if workers “opt out” of the system, Social Security would either (a) crumble with insufficient funds; or (b) need Congress to spend more money to make up the difference. How would Sessions address this? By all appearances, he hasn’t thought that far ahead.
Democrats, not surprisingly, were only too pleased yesterday to go on the offensive.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday predicted that House Republican plans to let workers opt out of Social Security would fail as voters realize how it will threaten their retirement.
“Seniors who have paid into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work shouldn’t end up in a risky privatization scheme to gamble their retirement on Wall Street,” Israel said. “The public has rejected this kind of Social Security privatization in the past and will again.”
Israel accused Republicans of looking to resolve the government’s fiscal crisis by scaling back Medicare and Social Security, while ignoring higher corporate taxes.
In fairness, I should note that “Savings Account For Every American Act” (or, “SAFE Act”) isn’t exactly on a fast track to the House floor. After being introduced late last week the bill, H.R.2109, has an underwhelming six co-sponsors. That’ll likely increase, but Social Security’s supporters probably don’t need to leap into action to defeat the bill just yet.
Still, there’s something truly amazing about the fact that any Republican officials would pursue this at all. The American mainstream has shown, over and over again, that Social Security privatization is a non-starter. The very idea pushed Bush’s presidency into a downward trajectory in 2005, and it never recovered. Even Paul Ryan, when shaping the radical House GOP budget plan, left Social Security out of the equation.
For that matter, after the economy crashed in 2008, I assumed it’d be a long while until Republicans started talking up Social Security privatization again.
Perhaps Pete Sessions and his cohorts are slow learners?
I suppose the real fun would be putting the Republican presidential field on the spot. “Mr. Romney, a member of the House Republican leadership is pushing legislation to privatize Social Security. If such a bill reached your desk as president, would you sign it?”
Inquiring minds want to know.
Update: One of the six co-sponsors is Republican Caucus Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas. This is relevant because it means two members of the GOP leadership are on board with this proposal.