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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Social Security, Obama and Ford

Over and over again, the conservative media -- fueled by the Cato Intitute, whose Project on Social Security Choice works tirelessly for the privatization of social security -- refer to Barak Obama (D-Ill) and Harold Ford, Jr. (D-Tenn) as two Democrats sympathetic to the privatization cause. Specifically, on December 1, the Cato Institute said:

The challenge is to bring this nationwide, bipartisan support for individual accounts inside the Beltway. That will require Republicans to reach out to sympathetic Democrats -- taking into account their concerns that any reform plan be fiscally responsible -- and for Democratic moderates to be willing to break with the entrenched "do nothing" wing of their party. In this regard, it is promising that two of rising stars of the Democratic Party, Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) and Senator-elect Barack Obama (D-Ill.), have both indicated a willingness to consider personal accounts.

Is there any truth to these allegations? Well, in the case of Obama, it seems that they are referring to is his proposal for Working Families Savings Accounts. According to the AP:

[Obama] said his plan would give people making less than $50,000 a year a 50 percent tax credit for contributions of up to $2,000 to an IRA or 401(k)....

Which seems to have nothing to do with Social Security, and Obama has said in the past he opposes any attempt to privatize Social Security and wants to use Social Security to "insure the solvency of the system, not plug other budget gaps."

Yet when he appeared on Meet the Press on November 14 of this year, Cato and other pirate-izers were cheering when he added fuel to the "Social Security is Sick and Dying" myth:

The Democratic Senator-elect from Illinois, Barack Obama, gave proponents of PRAs cause for optimism when host Tim Russert asked if common ground could be found between Democrats and Republicans on Social Security. Obama answered: I think that when it comes to Social Security, all of us want to make sure that our senior citizens can retire with dignity and respect. And everybody has to be openminded in thinking how do we firm up a system that, in fact, is going to be in difficulty in the coming years. So I absolutely think that it’s possible for us to find common ground.

(I have stated my emphatic belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Social Security system, so I won't go into it here. But if you want to, you can read more in here and here.)

The case of Ford is more troubling. In April of this year, at a Social Security reform briefing held by, Morton Kondrake moderated a discussion between Ford and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). In it, Ford fed the "Social Security is Sick" furor when he noted that "I’m 33 years old, and many in my generation will tell you they’re not expecting to be able to rely on Social Security." He further gave this support for privatization:

KONDRAKE: First, would you be supportive of a bill like Senator Graham’s, with personal accounts in Social Security?

REPRESENTATIVE FORD:  Yes, I would, provided we could pay for the transition costs without running up bigger deficits.  I’m not an expert on all the details, but I think his bill has good anti-poverty protections, and matching funds for lower-income workers.  The personal accounts are progressive, which is good.  And in the long run, it keeps Social Security costs down to about where they are now, which we can afford.  In this budget environment, however, it will be very hard to pay for the transition costs of the accounts.

In addition, Ford came close to co-sponsoring the Social Security Savings Act with Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) earlier this year. In the end, he withdrew his support because he could not agree with DeMint on a way to pay for these changes, but he mad this statement of support for the ideas embodied in DeMint's plan:

Rep. DeMint has a proposal that would allow workers to begin building wealth by investing part of their Social Security taxes in individual retirement accounts. The accounts would be administered within the Social Security Administration. His plan is progressive, allowing low-income workers to invest a larger portion of their taxes. It would allow assets to be passed on from generation to generation.

The reason I single out Ford and Obama is because they are the two that are repeatedly pointed to by privatizers when they claim "bipartisan support" for their measures (see here: The Washington Times, Fox News and The New York Sun). If they are indeed the future leaders of the Democratic Party, and I believe there are many reasons to hope that is true, they need to take a stand on BushCo's push to raid the Social Security piggy bank, and if indeed they are being unfairly trumpeted by conservative media for positions they do not support, they need to put an end to it.