Great News For Republicans

by digby

Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that the Democrats put down the Republicans hard on this issue, taking it off the menu for the foreseeable future with the "there is no crisis campaign." It's back in full effect.

Social Security to Become Key Issue

Three years after the collapse of President Bush's plan for private Social Security accounts, Republican presidential contenders are eager to try again. Not so the Democrats, who gravitate toward increasing payroll taxes on upper-income earners to fix the program's finances.


For now, the most favored suggestion, creation of a bipartisan commission, seems to hold different meanings for different candidates.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, said earlier this fall he favors creation of a commission like the one that hatched a financial fix for the system nearly a quarter century ago. Yet, maneuvering for the support of the conservative Club for Growth, he also said, "I would rule out a tax increase," thus rejecting a key element of the 1983 compromise signed by then-President Reagan.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois are among the Democrats who favor a bipartisan commission. At the same time, they evidently seek to preserve their own maneuvering room.

"I'd take everything off the table until we move toward fiscal responsibility and before we have a bipartisan process," Clinton said in one recent debate, drawing criticism from fellow Democrats who accused her of ducking the issue.

"Everything should be on the table," Obama said over the summer. Now, in a shift in emphasis that has drawn notice by his rivals, he says, "We don't need to cut benefits or raise the retirement age," a position that flatly rules out neither approach.

Actually the article is wrong in one important respect. It says the Democrats are not eager to get into the issue. That's not true. They were the ones who brought it up and now the Republicans have eagerly jumped on the bandwagon.(Running on social security at this juncture would be equivalent to the Republicans running on health care reform after they defeated the Clinton plan in 1994 --- only they aren't that stupid.) I assume this is an attempt to shore up the elderly vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the ramifications of that short term strategy are quite severe.

After their ignominious recent defeat on this issue, even if they are unable to move to privatization, the Republicans are thrilled that the Democrats have inexplicably given them opportunity to demagogue it again so soon. It gives them the opening to argue down the road that the country can't afford to reform the health care system --- which really is in crisis, especially Medicare, which can't be solved by any other means. I'm not sure I understand why trolling for the senior vote couldn't have been done using that important issue, which has the virtue of being real.

The outlines of the presidential race are starting to come into focus. It appears it's going to be about the war on terrorism, immigration and whether or not we should raise taxes to fix the non-existent social security "crisis." It's certainly possible to argue those issues on progressive terms. But they aren't exactly congenial turf, are they?

It's probably a good idea that the Democratic candidates and congressional leadership are ceding their ground on the agenda this early, though. It will be so much less painful to watch them once again choose to compete hard with the Republicans for the corporate money and right wing racist votes. If there's one thing we know from the last two decades, it's that those are the only votes truly worth having.