Political Animal


June 08, 2011 9:55 AM Social Security privatization still a GOP goal

By Steve Benen

Congressional Republicans have faced all kinds of heat recently for their misguided campaign to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system. It’s tempting to think the GOP would not only back away from this crusade, but would also learn a valuable lesson about Americans’ appreciation for bedrock domestic social programs.

Alas, that’s not the case. A few days ago, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, a member of the House Republican leadership, unveiled the “Savings Account For Every American Act,” which would allow Americans to withdraw from the Social Security system and opt into a privatized system.

Of course, with Social Security functioning as a pay-as-you-go program, if workers “opt out” of the system, Social Security would either (a) crumble with insufficient funds; or (b) need Congress to spend more money to make up the difference. How would Sessions address this? By all appearances, he hasn’t thought that far ahead.

Democrats, not surprisingly, were only too pleased yesterday to go on the offensive.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday predicted that House Republican plans to let workers opt out of Social Security would fail as voters realize how it will threaten their retirement.

“Seniors who have paid into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work shouldn’t end up in a risky privatization scheme to gamble their retirement on Wall Street,” Israel said. “The public has rejected this kind of Social Security privatization in the past and will again.”

Israel accused Republicans of looking to resolve the government’s fiscal crisis by scaling back Medicare and Social Security, while ignoring higher corporate taxes.

In fairness, I should note that “Savings Account For Every American Act” (or, “SAFE Act”) isn’t exactly on a fast track to the House floor. After being introduced late last week the bill, H.R.2109, has an underwhelming six co-sponsors. That’ll likely increase, but Social Security’s supporters probably don’t need to leap into action to defeat the bill just yet.

Still, there’s something truly amazing about the fact that any Republican officials would pursue this at all. The American mainstream has shown, over and over again, that Social Security privatization is a non-starter. The very idea pushed Bush’s presidency into a downward trajectory in 2005, and it never recovered. Even Paul Ryan, when shaping the radical House GOP budget plan, left Social Security out of the equation.

For that matter, after the economy crashed in 2008, I assumed it’d be a long while until Republicans started talking up Social Security privatization again.

Perhaps Pete Sessions and his cohorts are slow learners?

I suppose the real fun would be putting the Republican presidential field on the spot. “Mr. Romney, a member of the House Republican leadership is pushing legislation to privatize Social Security. If such a bill reached your desk as president, would you sign it?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: One of the six co-sponsors is Republican Caucus Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas. This is relevant because it means two members of the GOP leadership are on board with this proposal.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on June 08, 2011 10:05 AM:

    I think this is part of their "O-O" plan - 'Outrage Overload.'

    They've been using this for over 10 years now.

    Bush was great at it.

    He's talk about starting a war, and we'd go "O-O!"
    And then before we knew it, he'd start another one, and we'd go "O-O!" and we'd already be in there fighting, and occupying the first country. Etc...
    This went on domestically as well.
    We kept trying to put out fires here and there, as Little Boots and his Congressional lackey's ran around the world igniting whatever they could.
    After awhile, you kind of suffer from 'Outrage Overload,' and slow down, if you didn't give up completely.

    Maybe they're trying again:
    We're going to kill Medicaid!
    And Medicare!!!
    And Social Security - Bwa-ha-ha!!!
    "Oy vey!!!"

  • bignose on June 08, 2011 10:06 AM:

    Note to Dems: Make sure this gets a voteon the House floor before the elections

  • wvmcl2 on June 08, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Considering how great private investment returns have been over the past ten years or so, this should be a sure winner.

  • max on June 08, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Another politically suicidal GOP plan regarding Social Security is almost too much to hope for. However, there are rumors that they will try to eliminate or diminish cost of living increases due to inflation for federal retirees, military retirees and Social Security recipients. Since we haven't had an increase in over two years and seniors vote in large numbers I'm hoping GOP tea bagging lemmings go for it. We are coming up on the anniversary of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Come on boys. We're waiting for you to be bold, and stupid. I know I can count on the second part of that.

  • chopin on June 08, 2011 10:25 AM:

    It sure would be nice FOR A CHANGE to see Obama and the entire Donkey Circus raise up in one voice and very loudly, very publicly and very often repeat the phrase "There they go again. The GOP leadership and their handlers want to give you a voucher and wish you good luck while they abolish Medicare. Now the GOP leadership and their handlers want to dismantle Social Security and instead let you gamble with the sharks in Wall Street. Just say HELL NO! Elect anyone but a Republican to office".

  • Celui on June 08, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Well said, 'bignose'. I believe that the time has come for Democrats everywhere to vocally force the public to recognize the idiocy of 'plans' such as this proposed by the Republicans, and to see in advance how such propositions will adversely affect their lives. For crying out loud, the American public has become accustomed to snippet sound-bite news 'analyses' and expects little in-depth reporting from their news sources, Rachel Maddow excluded. The problem is that few people will see the extent of the long-term damages such as this proposal by Sessions can bring. Demand an up-down vote, publicly scrutinized, debated openly as a real 'Congress' should do, and let the voters see just where their elected representatives' interests lie. Gulag's proposal has merit. Why, why not just make it part of the open public discourse? (then, we'd discover who 'owns' whom).

  • berttheclock on June 08, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Ah, four esses in Sessions. Texans do love crooked letters, especially, when they are in the names of crooked politicians. CREW has had Sessions listed just below Tom DeLay as the most corrupt member of Congress. With Sessions, it always comes down to "Follow the money" to see who is paying the freight for any of his legislation.

    "Cost of living increases"?

    Especially, putrid when the government keeps using the canard that oil and food prices are "seasonal" and won't use them in the inflation index. "Pickett's Charge" where the commander of the Virginians used "For Virginia, boys, For Virginia" to spur his troops forward. Now, the right just uses "For Privatization, boys, For Privatization". Democrats, load your cannons with scrap metal, as the Army of the Potomac did, and commence firing volley after volley.

  • DAY on June 08, 2011 10:34 AM:

    In a more perfect world, SS would be like term life insurance- a safety net that you hope you never need.

    but then that would mean we all have good jobs and lead a healthy lifestyle, so in our old age we would be running marathons and living on the interest in our privatized accounts.

  • Texas Aggie on June 08, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Texas has some real heroes. Molly Ivins, Ann Richards and Sen. Yarborough come to mind, but there are so many flaming idiots (the list is endless) that I can't understand how the state has managed to survive for as long as it has. It says something for the resilience of Texicans that they are still around. It also says something about their intelligence (or their masochism) that they elect individuals like Goodhair, Armey, Hensarling, Delay, Sessions, Gohmert ...

    For those who are afraid of an Hispanic invasion of illegals, may I point out that the Valley, which is largely Hispanic, has consistently elected the most reasonable candidates? That suggests that in influx of Mexicans will raise the national IQ, definitely a good thing in these days of TP's running the country.

  • berttheclock on June 08, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Mr Sessions, you are really causing me to never ever trust an Eagle Scout, especially, whenever one says to me, "Sir, may I help you across the street". He will, probably, be in cahoots with that PeterBilt driver.

  • golack on June 08, 2011 10:39 AM:

    of course they'll keep trying--it's only a "branding issue", right????

    Wall Street want to get it's hand on that money so it can skim some of it off. And, more importantly, dumping that money into stocks will boost the market without any need for rhyme nor reason--which bankers really love. Alas, it will turn out to be another lesson in bubble-omics.

    People's money have effectively been sucked out of their pensions, retirement savings, housing assets--not much left to go after....

  • berttheclock on June 08, 2011 10:49 AM:

    @Texas Aggie, Blake Farenthold and Randy Neugabauer feel slighted, I'm sure.

    Sessions's district was a result of the DeLay Gerry Mandering which wiped out a Democratic held district.

  • Mr. Serf Man on June 08, 2011 10:54 AM:

    It must be interesting inside that beltway bubble where reality never dare show it's face. I mean seriously, does he watch anything other than Faux nooze ?
    Obviously not.

  • uncleh on June 08, 2011 10:57 AM:

    The repukes want to "allow" retirees to gamble with their retirement safety net, against wall st. sharks equipped with the latest in computers and software designed to separate money from those less prepared.

    Why not feed the sharks?

    Of course it will be voluntary, just like they made the military. Hey, gamble your lives.

  • skeptonomist on June 08, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Social-security bashers - and those who advocate other unpopular policies like tax cuts for the rich - are not slow learners; they keep getting elected. Politicians need money for campaigns and need to keep money out of the hands of their opponents, so they advocate things that are good for big-money interests.

  • Tired Liberal on June 08, 2011 11:05 AM:

    My private retirement accounts (IRA-type accounts invested in what financial experts of all types recommend as "age appropriate" investment allocations) have gone through three major meltdowns during the period I have held them while working and in retirement. Before retirement this meant patiently waiting for recovery. After retirement this meant a serious drop in income. Social Security has provided the stable base of income that allows me to weather these changes. Now the Republicans want to take this reassuring safety net away from my children when they retire. Shame on them and their greedy financial sector masters.

  • slappy magoo on June 08, 2011 11:06 AM:

    I have a question to ask all of you - not a "gotcha!" question, so no worries, haha. I'm just genuinely curious. It seems to me, as unhinged as Republicans can be, they seem to have gone really off the deep end not only since Obama was elected, but as a result of the Citizens United decision. We are now in a point where if a politician's campaign platform is disliked by a vast majority of his or her constituents, it doesn't matter. If that platform pleases a few key money-people, you can still have an outrageously well-funded campaign, focused on relentlessly attacking the Dem opponent's real or perceived negatives. Do this successfully with just enough Senators and just enough Reps, get a Republican in the White House...well it wouldn't be the first time money bought influence and power, but it would be the most frightening time. A Koch brothers-led oligarchy should chill any American's blood regardless of their political leanings

  • berttheclock on June 08, 2011 11:10 AM:

    It is not only the politicians who have gone beserk following the win by Obama. Robert Samuelson, the so-called economic writer for WaPo, wrote an extensive column, recently, where he called Social Security "Welfare". This past week he extended that to include Medicare.

  • del on June 08, 2011 11:13 AM:

    This is mighty interesting. For years we've heard that tax cuts to the rich would help spur inovation and job creation. The only job creation going on from the conservative standpoint is privatization of all government functions so their allies can make money off what services the government offers. They are not coming up with new ideas and services/products to offer as they are not visionaries. Their vision is stuck in the past and it is all about how we can do more harm to the American public. After all, the question is, are we better off with our pension system before it was privatized? For the majority of the public I think not. I've asked this before and will again, why do conservatives hate the American public and our nation as a whole so much?

  • j on June 08, 2011 11:27 AM:

    And just what is that rascal Jindal doing in Louisiana, playing with the employees health insurance fund?

  • T2 on June 08, 2011 11:30 AM:

    The Elimination of social benefits is a key thing to Conservatives. Why? Simple....how many black or brown or asian Conservatives have you counted? Not many. Conservatives/GOP/TeaParty/Hard Core Evangelicals all have one thing in common, they cannot stand to see their tax dollars go to the pockets of minorities or the poor. They hate it. So eliminating those benefits is their goal, and reducing taxes is the means to deprive the nation of the finances to support benefits. Therefore you constantly hear Conservatives screaming for Tax Cuts. The less tax revenue, the less benefits for the hated minorities and the more money in white folks pockets. Screw everyone else.
    That's the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats.

  • jdb on June 08, 2011 11:42 AM:

    As the above link shows, Mr. Sessions has been trying this for over 10 years - he has introduced this "SAFE" Act four times in the past, going back as far as 1998, demonstrating that the GOP attack on entitlements is pervasive and persistent. In 2 of the 4 previous attempts, Sessions had no co-sponsors, in the other 2, he has only one (Shadegg of AZ). The fact that he has 6 so far this year seems to indicate heightened interest in the GOP caucus, and a more aggressive attack.

  • TCinLA on June 08, 2011 12:30 PM:

    Pete Sessions proves that being a fighter jock flying "hot planes" is no big deal, because if it was a Big Deal, morons like him would be incapable of doing it (and sadly, most fighter jocks are far right morons like him).

  • mellowjohn on June 08, 2011 1:10 PM:

    "By all appearances, (Sessions) hasnít thought that far ahead."

    no great surprise there.

    sunyata erteding?!

  • John Puma on June 08, 2011 3:07 PM:

    Sessions sure has "thought that far ahead"!

    The destruction of Social Security is what you predict for his plan and that is EXACTLY his motivation for it.