Matthew Yglesias has two posts on whether the Democrats should participate in the legislative process on Social Security or remain united in opposition to any action by the Republicans. From the first of these posts:
It's not so much a question of conservatives versus moderates, as it is a question of people who happen to have a bug in their pants about Social Security versus those who are nervous about the political risks here and who have other agendas they'd like to advance. The only really feasible way to put a stop to this is to make sure that the nervous nellies stay very nervous. Key to that is making sure that unlike with, say, the Medicare bill, they can't drape their vote in even the merest veneer of bipartisanship.In the second post, he endorses the following:
"Message No. 1 to Americans: When it comes to Social Security, the sky is not falling," said the Senate's new assistant Democratic leader, Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). "There are people in this administration who have an agenda that is not friendly to Social Security."And then he adds:
Exactly. Message number one is that Social Security is healthy and successful. There is no crisis.I'll look to address (again) the substance of the "there is no crisis" refrain in another post. In this post, I'll focus on why I think this is not a winning strategy for Democrats. I'll be very frank about my bias here. I have no partisan interest in the Democratic party per se, but it would be nice if someday it fielded a candidate for President who inspired me to vote for him or her.
First, the focus group results that I have seen show that very few approaches to Social Security cause as negative a reaction as denying that Social Security has a problem that needs to be fixed. If you don't like the idea of adding personal accounts to Social Security, then argue against it. But to go beyond that and suggest that there is no need to reform the system (leaving aside for now whether the current predicament merits the label of a "crisis") is unwise. I think that most people understand that the aging of the Baby Boom will reshape our fiscal landscape. They don't have much tolerance for people who seem to doubt that widely held view. On the other side of the issue, I have sequenced my arguments on this on the blog very precisely to make sure that every reader knows that I think the key issue is solvency and not personal accounts.
Second, there's an old saying in Washington, "You can't beat something with nothing." I hated having this quoted to me by policy folks in the White House last year--it caused otherwise sensible small-government people to propose all sorts of expansions of the federal government. Not very Republican of them. But there is a big danger to the Democrats who suggest that unity in opposition is a sensible policy for a (shrinking?) minority party in the Congress. If Democrats elected to the legislature refuse to engage in the legislative enterprise, then the rationale for re-electing them disappears. We saw some of that in 2004: the Democrats lost ground in Congress and Senator Daschle was defeated even though he held the leadership position. Had he used that position to be something other than the President's chief obstructionist, he may have stood a better chance.
There are plenty of ways the Democrats could constructively engage. For example, they could insist that, in exchange for going along with personal accounts of the size suggested by the President's Commission (e.g., 4% of payroll up to $1000), solvency be restored not through reducing benefits across the board but by raising the ages of full and early retirement (a much better policy). To cover themselves politically, they could even insist that this change be proposed on a bipartisan basis. If they did that, they would have dramatically improved the system compared to its present status. And they would also come a step closer to getting the "Grownup Republican" vote that they needed in November. As an alternative example, they could shore up the support of their base if they proposed something like this.
I don't want a replay of the Medicare bill any more than Matt does.
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