The War Against Social Security

The L.A. Times has a couple of extraordinary articles about Social Security today.

They Invested Years in Private Accounts: Conservatives who want to alter Social Security have long worked to nudge public opinion. Bush will likely advance the cause this week.

The Declaration of War

This week, President Bush's plan to allow younger workers to divert Social Security taxes into personal investment accounts will be a centerpiece of his State of the Union address and a barnstorming tour of the country. It is a tough sell to an uncertain public, but Bush has a secret weapon: A generation of free-market conservatives like Crane and Piñera has been laying the groundwork for this debate.

"It could be many years before the conditions are such that a radical reform of Social Security is possible," wrote Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, Heritage Foundation analysts, in a 1983 article in the Cato Journal. "But then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform."

The Enemy

Thanks in part to the work of think tanks like Cato, Heritage and the National Center for Policy Analysis, Bush is also benefiting from a public opinion climate that is far more receptive to changing the government retirement system than it was 20 years ago.

That is partly because these groups have broadcast a consistent message: Social Security is financially unsustainable and will collapse after the baby boom generation retires. Although that is debatable, polls show that most Americans lack confidence in the program's future.

"It started as the third rail of politics, but over a period of time conservatives kept at it until [their assumptions] began to sound like common sense," said George Lakoff, an expert in political communication at UC Berkeley.

The Strategy

After that experience, analysts Butler and Germanis argued in their prescient 1983 article -- provocatively titled "Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy" -- that privatizing Social Security required a calculated, long-term campaign to transform the political environment.

The steps they recommended were strikingly similar to the course Bush has taken: reassuring retirees that their benefits would not be cut and arguing that Social Security is financially unstable.

"Our reform strategy involves what one might crudely call guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it," they wrote. "An economic education campaign ... must be undertaken to demonstrate the weaknesses of the current system."

What's more, they argued, "building a constituency for Social Security reform requires mobilizing the various coalitions that stand to benefit from the change.... The business community and financial institutions, in particular, would be an obvious element in the constituency."

That foreshadowed the course conservatives took through the 1980s and 1990s.

Tactics

The group is planning a nationwide campaign of town hall meetings, direct mailings and local TV ads to get out its message, which includes support for private Social Security investment accounts, Max said.

The Generals


Now that he is pushing for Congress to act, Bush is tapping the community of long-standing advocates of private accounts. The White House regularly consults the think-tank experts who have been writing about Social Security for decades. The administration's point man on Social Security, Charles P. Blahous III, is former executive director of a business coalition formed to lobby for personal accounts.

The revolving door has swept a top Cato analyst into the upper echelons of Bush's apparatus for promoting the new policy: Andrew G. Biggs, who spent several years at Cato, now is associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration.

The Goal

For these free-market devotees, winning the Social Security battle would be more than just the capstone of Bush's second-term agenda. It would also be the culmination of a generation-long drive to chip away at the New Deal's cornerstone and transform the role of the federal government.

"You have extremely high expectations among conservatives that real change is going to take place," said Stephen Moore, an activist who backs overhauling Social Security. "Conservatives have waited 20 years for this alignment."

Tax Fears Help Bush's Plan Win Business Backing : Manufacturers, restaurateurs and small firms are lining up in favor of restructuring Social Security -- and averting higher payroll levies.

The War Chest

"They will definitely have a war chest now," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a Washington-based group that is battling the president's plan.

The War Chest has a broad funding base:

The groups, including manufacturers, restaurant owners and small businesses, say they will spend millions of dollars to support President Bush's efforts to create private Social Security investment accounts. Leaders say the campaign is being driven by fears that, without an overhaul, the government could resort to raising the Social Security payroll tax to bridge any funding gaps.      
                                           . . .

The coalition's budget "will be a lot larger than in 2002," when it spent $5 million promoting its viewpoint, he said.

The Coalition

"The president deserves the bipartisan support of the Congress and the strong backing of the business community" in addressing Social Security changes, John Engler, president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, said in a recent open letter to members. The re-education campaign is in full swing.

The manufacturers group is the principal sponsor of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, a coalition seeking to revamp Social Security. On its website, the alliance lists the creation of private accounts as its No. 1 principle; No. 2 is to oppose a payroll tax increase.

Danner of the independent business federation met with representatives of other business associations this month, a gathering organized by the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, or Compass.

The coalition is led by the Business Roundtable, a group of blue-chip U.S. companies including Coca-Cola Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and IBM Corp.

Compass was launched in 2002 to promote ideas for restructuring the Social Security system but has been mostly dormant for two years. Bush's decision to move Social Security to the top of his action list has rejuvenated the group, said Derrick Max, who is coordinating the coalition's activities.

The manufacturers group said it had been joined by more than 40 other organizations and companies in the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security. Members include brokerage firm Edward Jones & Co., technology giant Hewlett-Packard Co. and the National Restaurant Assn.

The restaurant association has been roused to action in part because the industry claims the largest U.S. workforce apart from government, said Rob Green, vice president of federal relations for the Washington-based group.

The Chamber of Commerce is part of the Axis of Evil.

The N.Y. State Society of CPAs has also signed on. Is your company or your trade association a member of Compass ?

The time for avoiding the shiboleth of class warfare is long past.

"If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning." Warren Buffet

George Bush has declared war on Social Security. The time for quibbling over the details is long past. It's time to cut to the chase and talk plainly. We need to tell Americans that Bush is stealing your FICA payments. Your President is taking your hard earned FICA payments and giving them to billionaires. George Bush is taking your FICA payments and using it to give corporate welfare to greedy corporations.

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Comments

2 Comments

What is missing from this list?
Lets see: Declaration of War, the Enemy, the Strategy, the Tactics, the Generals, the Goal, the War Chest, the Coalition.

Numbers, that is what is missing. Everyone on their side believes that they had all the ammunition they needed tucked away in their back pockets. Now that they are charging into battle they are realizing to their horror that economic reality emptied their arsenal. This is a new Charge of the Light Brigade, they are waving their once shiny sabres of rhetoric in the face of the massed guns of real world economic numbers, and it is too late to call off the charge, that would stink of retreat. Bush had the bugle blown and his Party is riding hell-bent onto the Third Rail of American Politics.

I have some pity for the rank and file, but almost without exception the leaders on this are loathsome individuals. Put Generals Rove and Norquist right up front, I want the first shot.

I have all the numbers I need to extrapolate the dates and numbers in the following chart EPI: Changes in Trustees projections over time and show a fully funded Trust Fund forever.

Their money and their think tanks and their facilitators in the media can raise the noise level, but without numbers in the end it will be "a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing". And I can't wait.

Got Numbers?

by Bruce Webb 2005-01-30 07:44AM | 0 recs
Re: What is missing from this list?
The facts will be necessary, but I don't know if they will be sufficient. I hope and believe we are ready for the onslaught of misinformation and PR campaign that is coming. BlogPac and There Is No Crisis as well as the broad coaltion on our side should be up to the challenge.

I hope the Democrats are ready to get down and dirty, because the GOPers certainly will. I have no doubt that they already have Harry and Louise commercials in the can.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-01-30 09:00AM | 0 recs

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