This weekend WaPo's David Broder did a column hyping Rep. Clay Shaw's "idea" of throwing in the towel on Social Security privatization and just borrowing a few trillion bucks to create "add-on" accounts, which in a different form were once proposed by Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
But today the LA Times' Ron Brownstein rains pretty hard on add-ons as any sort of "face-saving" compromise.
Clinton and Gore backed the idea when the federal budget enjoyed a huge surplus; now, with the government again so deeply in the red, skeptics are asking whether subsidizing more retirement saving should be a higher priority than expanding access to healthcare or reducing the deficit itself.
And GOPers, despite their growing interest in a way out of the Social Security cul de sac where Bush has taken them, like "add-on" accounts even less:
Almost all congressional conservatives view such accounts as a new entitlement that would expand the welfare state; that's the view among Bush's top economic advisors as well. And that conflicts with a key, if rarely articulated, conservative goal in this debate: shrinking the size of government and encouraging Americans to rely more on the market, and less on public programs, for economic security.
"I don't think you solve a problem with an old entitlement by creating a new entitlement," says one senior administration official.
Thus, says Brownstein:
Add-on accounts may look like a reasonable midpoint between the two sides in this struggle. But in a polarized capital where the only constant is conflict, it increasingly appears that add-ons don't add up for either party.
Sure looks that way to me. A theoretically possible "deal" on add-on accounts would have to depend on a barely imaginable deal about the overall shape and direction of the federal government and the tax code. Borrowing a few trillion smackers to "save face" for the GOP may be less damaging that borrowing many trillions to screw up Social Security forever, but it's deficits and debt, not retirement security, that's today's unmistakable "crisis."