The Note: Questionable Figures

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times looks at a different kind of realignment that appears to be taking place -- that of the safety net, encompassing health care, pensions, and Social Security alike, increasingly becoming the domain of individuals rather than employers or the government. The large institutions that used to manage these benefits are pushing for the change, and are in a sense reaping the benefits as more responsibility and choice shifts to the individual, Brownstein writes. LINK

"These ideas raise distinct issues but present common philosophical choices. Like the parallel changes in the private sector, each GOP proposal compels individuals to bear more financial risk. In return, it offers them more choice (about how to invest their retirement money, for instance) and ownership (of assets like individual investment or health savings accounts)."

". . . Yet the public resistance to Bush's Social Security plan suggests that for now, the loss of guaranteed benefits in the workplace has made Americans prize such guarantees from government even more. Bush is right that rising costs eventually will force government to scale back its healthcare and retirement promises. But the Social Security debate makes clear he hasn't yet convinced the country that such a reexamination will require Washington to limit its own financial risk, as employers have already done, by transferring risk to workers and their families."

Writes Dick Stevenson in the New York Times, sucking on his thumb, "[w]hat President Bush needs most is the political cover for his party that Democrats would provide by expressing support for the benefit cuts, tax increases or other painful changes widely seen as necessary to assure Social Security's solvency as the population ages."

"So far, Democratic leaders in Congress have refused to play along, and there is little indication that they will change their minds. Their political reasoning is that Mr. Bush's approach is sinking of its own accord, and that there is no reason to jump in the quicksand with him."

"There is another good reason for Democrats to keep the focus on Mr. Bush's approach. To the degree that they acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be addressed -- and some Democrats say Social Security's problems are not so big or immediate that changes must be made now -- they would have little choice but to back some benefit reductions of their own, plus an array of tax increases that would no doubt induce something between heartburn and cardiac arrest in the electorate."

Writes Paul Krugman, also in the Old Gray Lady: "[L]et me deal with a fundamental misconception: the idea that President Bush's plan would somehow protect future Social Security benefits."

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