You can't stop fighting to save Social Security because he won't stop trying to phase it out.
According to afternoon wire reports, at the president's primetime press conference tonight, he will finally tell the public precisely what he does and doesn't support (aka, negotiating with yourself.)
Actually, in Scott McClellan's words, President Bush will "talk in more specific ways about his ideas for making Social Security permanently sound [and] some new proposals that he will talk about that he believes ought to be part of any solution." So, it's quite possible that we're just going to hear some more of the same mumbojumbo because he's still afraid to put something down on the table.
But clearly, with the failure of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour now conceded, the president wants to reshuffle the deck and force the debate on to some new phase.
So with that in mind, a few thoughts ...
First, you know what we'll hear. Democrats only say no. They don't have a plan. Wrong. Democrats do have a plan: it's called Social Security. And that's not mere rhetoric. It's an upfront, level-with-the-public statement of fact. What it means is that Democrats want to preserve Social Security as a defined-benefit system of social insurance. You can only say the Democrats have no plan if you take it as a given that the program must be radically restructured, like many of the talking heads in Washington. And Dems just don't agree.
Nor does this mean that they're flatly opposed to any changes. Social Security hasn't remained untouched for seventy years. Nor are the Democrats saying that every jot and tittle of all its complex tables of inflows and outflows are sacrosanct today. There are several quite detailed Democratic plans which have already been put forward, with mixes of minor benefits cuts and tax increases to bring the system into long-term solvency. What the Democrats oppose are radical cuts of the sort President Bush supports in order to fundamentally change the nature of the program, pay for his tax cuts and aide in not paying back the Treasury securities sitting in the Trust Fund.
The president was just reelected. He made phase-out his signature issue. His party controls majorities in both houses of Congress. It is not up to Democrats to do all his heavy-lifting for him and spell out every last detail. He was reelected. He said he wanted to lead. So lead.
So, as I said, Democrats have a plan: Social Security.
Second, and I'll be searchingly curious whether a reporter asks this at the news conference tonight: all of President Bush's scare-mongering about Social Security rests on the premise that the money borrowed from the Trust Fund either will not or cannot be paid back. If it is treated as a given that it will, little he is saying makes sense. So who will ask, specifically and on the point: Mr. President, will you guarantee that all the money that you and your predecessors (Clinton, Bush and Reagan) have borrowed from the Trust Fund will be repaid in full with interest, as prescribed by law? And if so, why are you trying to convince people that Social Security runs into any difficulties at the end of the next decade.
Third, keep your eye on the admittedly-much-diminished Fainthearted Faction. As we've said from the very beginning: this is in Democrats' hands to stop. Or, even a relative few of them, can start the ball rolling toward phase-out.