« Peter Gosselin on Inequality and Risk | Main | Joshua Micah Marshall Likes Joe Biden »

February 28, 2005

Social Security Deals: Why They Are Not a Good Idea

Joshua Micah Marshall is worried about Senator Lieberman:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: February 27, 2005 - March 05, 2005 Archives: "every sign I see tells me that Sen. Lieberman is looking to cut a deal of some sort with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina and thus with the White House.... I think the probable deal involves raising the cap and using those new funds for private accounts, thus getting around the idea that it's a 'carve-out'.... [T]here's no limit to the policy creativity of a truly faint heart. Whether such a compromise would ever fly or not is another question. But I suspect it's largely beside the point because once you're to that point you're into a process of legislative horse-trading and conference committees.... You do have to wonder -- really, really wonder -- about the roots of the urge to split the difference on phase-out seeing as the public is against it and turning more against with time. The policy and the politics are both lined up on one side of the ledger on this one. This isn't about garnering lots of press as the dealmaker, invites to the chat shows or the yearned-for plaudits of an increasingly right-leaning dinner-party centrism. And it shouldn't be about angling for mentions in the Post's increasingly fatuous Social Security editorials. This is about saving Social Security and now about preserving it for a long time to come.

So, Lieberman's the weakpoint in the wall against Social Security phase-out. Sen. Carper too -- but, my gut tells me, not as much as Joe. So if there's a time to pull out all the stops to save Social Security, to mobilize pressure and exert coercive persuasion, now's the time and Lieberman's the guy. If anything, the press coverage has understated just had badly the Republicans got hammered out in those townhalls last week....

Let's be analytically clear, however:

  1. A Social Security reform bill that uncaps FICA, uses half the new FICA money for sweetening the pot for a well-implemented forced-savings private account program, and that uses the other half of FICA money plus some benefit cuts/retirement age increases to bring Social Security itself into seventy-five year actuarial balance in a well-implemented way--that's a reform bill that is good for the country.
  2. However, you cannot get there: whatever deals are struck between Graham and Lieberman will be undone in the conference committee.
  3. And even if you could get there in the sense of having a deal on the major outlines of the reform bill, the devil is in the details--and everything we know about the Bush administration tells us that it is incapable of implementing anything well: something always goes wrong (due either to incompetence or malevolence or both) to make Bush-implemented policy initiative a bad idea.
  4. So the only way to fix Social Security is to do so in a way that keeps the Bush administration's mitts off of the implementation, and the final form of the legislation out of the hands of a Republican-dominated conference committee.
  5. Therefore, if Lieberman is going to bargain, he needs to bargain first for a special rule to govern the legislative process, second for the removal of drafting details from Republican-controlled staffs, and third for a separate--and non-Bush controlled--bureaucracy to implement the program.

What Josh is saying is that all that is simply not going to happen, so that (1) is irrelevant. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that (1) is true.

Posted by DeLong at February 28, 2005 09:22 AM