I take it that


I take it that we will be forced to allow at least 48 hours for the collective media swoon over President Bush’s embrace of “progressive indexing.

Here’s a bit from CNN’s “Morning Grind” …

When President Bush takes his new (Democrat-friendly?) pitch for “progressive indexing” across the Potomac this morning, look for signs of his new resolve. His Social Security plan still faces an up(Capitol)hill climb, and nothing he said last night changed that. But few things embolden Bush more than bold strokes, and from Social Security to North Korea to the filibuster/faith debate, he made a few of those strokes last night.

Progressive indexing might not sound sexy. But the idea (developed by financier Robert Pozen) of offering bigger checks to low-income retirees, and cutting benefits for the middle class and wealthy, is the most dramatic move Bush has made to broaden his reform plan’s appeal since he publicly embraced the largely unappealing private accounts last year. Bush may have addressed millions of TV viewers last night, but his remarks were narrowly targeted to people named Snowe, Chafee, Nelson and Lincoln — moderates in both parties who say they want Bush to focus less on private accounts and more on shoring up the system’s long-term solvency. He did that last night. (So far this morning, no one’s used the word “welfare” to describe Bush’s plan. But stay tuned).

If you’ve dewobbled your knees and caught your breath, let’s remember a few elementary points.

First, the White House has <$Ad$> been saying the president supports ‘progressive indexing’ for months. So I’m not sure it counts either as dramatic, let alone a move. Second, let’s state specifically what this to-some-sexy-sounding proposal offers: steep benefit cuts for all but the lowest income Americans and meager increases in benefits for them. It’s hard to see how there’s anything particularly progressive about gutting Social Security for the entire middle class. And how this comes off as a politically attractive proposal once anyone understands it is hard to figure.

All that has happened here is that the president has temporarily bamboozled a few folks in the media by trying to spin phase out. He is calling for steep and growing benefit cuts for everyone in the middle class and he still demands a partial phase-out of Social Security to be replaced by private accounts.

Social Security’s support of the poorest Americans is a critical part of what it accomplishes. But Social Security is not poor relief. That is only what the president wants to make it — in part because, once it is, it is far easier to cut further, since it has no organized political constituency.

Social Security is the sheet anchor of the modern American middle class. It’s why working Americans can approach retirement with an assurance of security and a modicum of leisure. It stimulates economic vitality by creating a floor of security that facilitates economic risk-taking in investment and business. It’s why parents don’t have to shortchange investment in children’s education by supporting parents in their old age. It provides economic security to families hit by catastrophe and misfortune in mid-life. As I said, it’s the sheet anchor of what we’ve come to know in the last century as middle class life.