Thursday, March 03, 2005

Robert Novak claims Bush made - and has owned up to - a mistake in "pushing for new personal accounts while not stressing the repair of the safety net for seniors". While I'm not sure if Novak means that Bush should have stressed the repair of the safety net as part of the push for personal accounts or that Bush should have taken care of the seniors before pushing the personal retirement accounts, I don't think it would have mattered. Seniors only want to hear that their prized Social Security checks (along with their Medicare checks and discounts at the movie theater) will keep coming. Everything else - the war on terror, education reform, executing juveniles - is secondary (I'd be willing to bet that they would call for a cut in national defense if they thought fighting terrorists was threatening the country's ability to keep the checks coming). They could care less about Personal Retirement Accounts - they're too old to have one, so why bother, why let it get in the way of getting to the Early Bird Special at Denny's? Heck, they couldn't care less about everything else on the agenda. The only reason they even pay attention (actually, they don't do it themselves, they outsource it to AARP) is to make sure that nothing else interferes with their ability to keep on collecting their Social Security checks. For today's seniors, Social Security is not in crisis; they know they'll all be dead by the time Social Security starts to run negative. They gain nothing from actions that address the system 20-30-40 years out. All they see is a discussion of Social Security that doesn't involve raising their benefits. And for today's seniors, those are discussions they will never, ever have.

So if Bush wants to push Personal Retirement Accounts, it has to be done separate and apart from Social Security. The simplest thing for him to do is expand the 401(k) program.

As for Social Security, screw it. Don't do anything - don't raise taxes, don't cut benefits. Ignore it, take it off the table, take the issue away from the Democrats (just as the GOP in 1994 stood less for anything than they were against Clinton). Just let Social Security keep going as it is until the big train wreck happens (if in fact that ever happens) - then slash benefits. Us boomers aren't counting on having Social Security anyway, so we won't feel too put out when that reality hits.