There is a high likelihood that Social Security reform will be passed within a year. I write this although most congressmen I have spoken with -- both Republican and Democratic -- currently don't expect it. In fact, many members doubt it will even come to a vote. They are certainly hoping it won't. But then congressmen and senators are sometimes nearly the last to know how they are actually going to vote.
When I was Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary in the 1990s, it was often the case that only weeks, days and sometimes even hours or minutes before an important vote, less than half the members expressed support for the legislation that ultimately passed. While inducements and arm twisting inevitably played its part in some last minutes decisions (and surely will on Social Security this time), the larger reason for the unreliability of early congressional opinion is that until close to the time of voting, the members are not fully aware of all the decision criteria they will face.
Depending on which side has done a better job of public persuasion, public opinion may change nationally or in their districts. There may be unexpected changes in the lineup of interest groups in support of a bill. Certain interest groups will be more or less effective in making their cases. This year, the president's outside supporters may spend up to $200 million in support of passage. Karl Rove's multi-million-person election year volunteer machinery will be rolled out to do battle. The burden of those efforts have not yet begun to have their effects.
Right now, voting no on Social Security looks like the safer vote. But if President Bush can create a sense of urgency in the public (and particularly in the districts of hesitant members), then voting no next fall may be seen as carrying its own political risks.
Often congressmen and senators assume certain provisions of a bill will be popular or unpopular, and express their early support or opposition accordingly. But they may find out their early assumptions were wrong. This could well be the case on Social Security. Currently there are about two dozen Republican House members who have told their leadership that voting for Social Security changes could be political death for them. Another about 40 members probably share that fear. If they are justified in their fears, their leadership will not try to force them to vote yes, in which case Social Security will not pass the House. After all, the Republican House leadership doesn't want to risk losing its majority status in the next congress.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.