Articles in tomorrow's Washington Times and New York Times show the White House conceding defeat in the initial skirmish over phasing-out Social Security. But, of course, the broader battle has scarcely even started.
The NY Times piece ("White House Looking for Ways to Ease Opposition to Social Security Overhaul") describes White House efforts to tweak their phase-out proposal (largely through shifting benefit cuts around) to calm opposition among Republicans and perhaps break the solid opposition from Democrats. The Wash Times piece has money-man Stephen Moore giving advice on "Getting Reform Back on Track," as the title of his piece puts it.
This is where we start to see what cards folks are really holding.
For Democrats, especially, the president has shown his hand. He wants to begin phasing-out Social Security and replacing it with a system of private investment accounts. Clearly, they're not dealing with a president who's about making some adjustments in the program to ensure its longterm viability. And that really should be all Democrats need to know. What we'll see now is whether, if President Bush makes the benefit cuts a bit less draconian or fiddles with the diversion of Social Security taxes, any of them are inclined to reward him.
This is key to the entire unfolding debate: do Democrats start looking for ways to ameliorate the damage caused by the president's phase-out plan or do they try to push the debate further on to why Social Security is good for America and should be retained. (Needless to say, whether Democrats do start to soften their position will have a direct and immediate effect on the willingness on Republicans to get back on board with the president's phase-out program.)
The question is not whether President Bush gets to phase-out 30% or 40% or 25% of Social Security in 2005. At least, it's not a question or a distinction that should concern Democrats or, for that matter, Republican supporters of Social Security. In the long run, whether we phase out 50% this year or 25% this year and another 25% in 2007 or some other mix isn't a matter of great consequence. The question is whether we start down the path of phasing it out at all.
The difference of opinion and values is pretty straightforward: Democrats support Social Security, the president supports private accounts. What is there to do but to find out where everyone stands?