When politicians head out on tour, it’s often because they need to drum up support for unpopular policies. Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke during his tour to promote a peace treaty opposed by some members of the U.S. Senate. Wilson never completely recovered, and the U.S. never did join the League of Nations.
In a less extreme example, President Obama recently hit the road to promote his latest “jobs” bill. He’s “setting the stage for a long, bruising reelection fight,” the Washington Post reported.
That tour hasn’t worked so far. The Senate voted down Obama’s $447 billion plan, and has been voting down individual pieces of it ever since. Still, columnist Robert Samuelson writes that it’s time for a different sort of tour.
In Samuelson's fantasy, “Retired presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would tour the country together and apologize. They would apologize for not tackling Social Security and Medicare when they had the chance. They would say things that would offend their political bases: Bush would concede that we’ll ultimately need higher taxes to balance the budget; Clinton would support real Social Security and Medicare cuts to minimize draconian reductions in other government programs and steep tax increases.”
Samuelson correctly identifies the long-term problem: unfunded entitlement promises. The Heritage Foundation explains that, unless we increase taxes drastically, “spending on Medicare, Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidy program, and Social Security will consume all revenues by 2049. Because entitlement spending is funded on autopilot, no revenue will be left to pay for other government spending, including constitutional functions such as defense.”
But the columnist is wrong to pin equal amounts of blame on Clinton and Bush. The latter, after all, at least attempted to deal with the coming entitlement crisis.
In 2005, newly-reelected President Bush set out on a campaign to reform Social Security. His plan would have allowed taxpayers to create individual accounts they would control and divert a small portion of their Social Security taxes into those accounts. That would have allowed individuals to own and control some of their own retirement money.