Back in the late 1990s, Democratic policy types gave a lot of thought to various ‘asset-building’ policy initiatives — the idea being to encourage and even supplement investment and asset-building across a broad spectrum of the population, particularly among middle and lower income Americans who have been limited in their opportunities to do so, both by a simple lack of money and because many of the tax deferred investment options which have been created in recent decades aren’t that accesssible to them.
As the Social Security debate heated up, a number of those policy types started wedding the two ideas together — a particularly influential one was President Clinton who announced such a plan during his second term. Whereas Republicans wanted to phase out Social Security and replace it with private investment accounts, Democrats wanted to preserve Social Security and supplement it with investment accounts, often with the idea of setting up every child at birth with an account and a small contibution to start them on their way to building their own savings either for college, a first home, a business or even for retirement. Some suggested doing it at birth; others thought to have it kick after each child finishes high school, thus adding an incentive to finishing a basic education.
If you look on his website, Rep. Harold Ford has one of these plans that he’s clearly very interested in. He calls it the Aspire Act and you can see the details on it here on his site.
He and Rep. Patrick Kennedy are cosponsoring the bill with Reps. Petri and English in the House and Sens. Santorum and Corzine (another odd couple) have introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
I mention all this because if folks like Rep. Ford want to get people investing and building assets from early in life, they don’t have to abolish Social Security to do it. Plans like this are right there on the shelf to get behind. And Ford’s isn’t even on the shelf. He’s already working on it.
And after all why would any Democrat ever give a dime or lift a finger for any pol who voted to phase out Social Security?