Richard Cohen works up some excellent righteous indignation over the Republican Party's irrational aversion to taxes, but he seems to have a bad case of Washington Post editorial page disease. "George Bush is doing something interesting with Social Security," he writes, "I kind of like the idea of personal investment accounts if funding them does not weaken the overall program or add to the nation's incredible debt."
That's a bit like saying I like the idea of invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein if nobody gets killed and it doesn't cost any money. How, exactly, is diverting one third of Social Security's revenues into another program supposed to be done without weakening the program? Well, obviously, it can't. The idea that "a deal can be made on Social Security" where Bush agrees to raise the FICA cap and Democrats "permit some sort of move toward private accounts" is pure fantasy. The issue on the table here is whether or not we should start phasing Social Security out and replacing it with a 401 (k)-type system. The precise details of the payroll tax aren't relevant. There are lots of ways to broaden asset ownership without undermining Social Security. All you need to do is make sure that the money involved comes from somewhere -- anywhere -- other than Social Security's revenue stream. If this were really the issue, a deal would have been made yesterday. But you can't split the difference between phasing Social Security out and not phasing it out.
A universal social insurance program divided against itself cannot stand. E.J. Dionne gets it.