Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee is insisting again that his position on Social Security is being misunderstood or distorted. And this time, I think he's right.
Yesterday Knight Ridder ran a story on former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's plan to create individual investment accounts for children at birth, each of which the government would endow with $2,000. O'Neill says this is a way to deal with what he calls Social Security's unfunded liabilities. And, according to Knight Ridder, he "says his approach would eliminate the need for Social Security and Medicare."
In other words, O'Neill's a phase-out man, if one with a different sort of plan than the president's.
Later on in the article, the author writes that Ford last year introduced "a bill that amounts to a scaled-down version of O'Neill's proposal." And from that many have drawn the not-unreasonable assumption that Ford is trying to hop back on the phase-out bandwagon.
But the connection which is at least implied in the article is false.
The bill being referenced is that so-called ASPIRE act, which is similar in key ways to O'Neill's idea. The difference, however, is that it is meant to be in addition to Social Security, not a substitute for it. It doesn't take any money out of Social Security and isn't intended to replace it.
This afternoon, Ford put out a statement in which he said his ASPIRE Act would create a new savings vehicle for middle class families while ...
at the same time preserving Social Security and Medicare. Any assertions to the contrary are just wrong. ASPIRE would not be subsidized by Social Security, nor would it replace Social Security, despite the rhetoric of those who say it would. Those of us who support creating savings and investment vehicles for hard working Americans should not link those efforts with President Bush's plans to privatize Social Security. Any effort to link the funding of aspire to replacing Social Security or diverting funds from Social Security or Medicare to fund ASPIRE is not true.
In recent days, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has urged the creation of private accounts that would replace Social Security. His proposal is very different than President Bush's plan, but equally wrong in that he seeks to end Social Security as we know it. In short, the ASPIRE Act is very different than what former Secretary O'Neill is proposing. In our zeal to oppose President Bush and his Social Security privatization plan, let us be careful to not oppose savings and investment vehicles that will supplement Social Security, not destroy it.
It may look like Ford's just trying to distance himself from O'Neill's phase-out scheme now that he's now taking fire. But it seems pretty clear to me that this was just a bum rap from the beginning. ASPIRE does have bipartisan support. But it's not a phase-out bill. And Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) and Sen. Jon Corzine (D) were co-sponsors too.
As you might imagine, we've got our eyes on every former member of the Faction to spy out any signs of recidivist Faintheartedness. But this isn't it.