"What fate for Social Security reform?" That was the question Sean Tuffnell asked in a recent insightful opinion column for the Washington Times. He concluded, based upon his work heading up a voluntary educational-outreach initiative on Social Security around the country: "While Washington is reluctant to talk about Social Security, there is a tremendous interest outside the Beltway."
The White House may already have gotten that message. Several weeks ago, the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, said Congress should be ready to revisit Social Security reform next year. Vice President Cheney recently said that although the administration does not intend to focus on fundamental tax reform this year, Social Security reform may move forward.
That's good news, but has the administration learned a lesson from the Social Security reform dud it launched last year? Tuffnell contended that those reform efforts were plagued by sound-bite shallowness, negativity and partisanship, both by proponents and opponents of personal retirement accounts. Unable to gain traction, Social Security reform soon became overtaken by tsunamis, hurricanes, Supreme Court vacancies and Jack Abramoff scandals.
The overriding reason Social Security reform fizzled out, however, was that the president's staff gave him incredibly bad information and left him stranded in a political minefield trying to defend a flawed concept - not even a specific proposal - that the American people would not buy. The concept was that the level of retirement benefits Social Security currently promises is unreasonably high, and therefore future benefits must be cut to restore solvency to the program. Only after solvency is restored can personal accounts be added on later.
This is factually wrong, and it is an invitation to demagoguery from the left. With gas prices again on the rise, Iraq, Iran, the NSA controversy, congressional corruption scandals and now a Medicare prescription drug program causing havoc among seniors, the last thing this administration needs is an attack from the left on cutting seniors' future Social Security benefits.