Bush's Social Security Crisis Rhetoric Falling Flat


3-30-05, 10:00 am

Opponents of Bush's Social Security privatization plan continue to wonder what crisis President Bush and the Republicans are talking about as they try to sell the president's plan to the public. Trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund reported March 23 that without changes to address long-term financing problems, the trust fund would be able to pay full benefits until 2041, and there would still be sufficient money coming in to cover 74 percent of benefits thereafter. When asked about alternatives to Bush's idea, people widely support eliminating the $90,000 cap on income subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, individual income over $90,000 is not taxed. This means that the Social Security system is almost entirely and disproportionately funded by low- and middle-income working people.

People also strongly oppose raising the retirement age.

A more recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center points to growing opposition to Bush's plan among people under 30 years old. Less than half of this age group supports Bush plan, while almost two-thirds are said to have supported it a year ago. In this grouping, disapproval is greatest among those youth who also stated that they had 'heard a lot' about Bush's Social Security plan.

This turn around in public opinion has occurred in the midst of a high-powered, glitzy nationwide media blitz and cross-country campaign by Bush and several members of his administration to build support for his privatization plan.

Some congressional critics of Bush's plan point out that an important reform would be aimed at the spending habits of the US government rather than the program itself. A bill introduced by conservative Democrat Rep. Dennis Moore (KS) would order that money received from the Social Security payroll tax would be used solely for ensuring the solvency of the program and paying benefits, not shifted to other parts of the federal budget or to make the ballooning deficit appear smaller.

For those who oppose privatization on the principled grounds that our society must provide a safety net for retiring or disabled working people, Bush's privatization plan simply discards the social duty. According to the AFL-CIO, the leading umbrella organization of labor unions, which along with senior citizen organizations such as AARP, Bush's plan would replace Social Security’s guaranteed benefits with risky private accounts that would neither guarantee a better return nor individual control over one's finances.

The AFL-CIO has mobilized thousands of its members in opposition to Bush's plan. An e-mail and letter writing campaign targeting investment companies to withdraw from a pro-privatization coalition of businesses and business associations has led to some success. At least one member of the coalition has withdrawn under pressure.

The union has scheduled more public demonstrations at the West Shore, Tampa, Florida offices of investment firms Charles Schwab and Wachovia on March 31 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A similar protest will be staged at the St. Petersburg, Florida Charles Schwab at the same time.

The Bush plan, the union says, would slash guaranteed benefits for young workers today by as much as $152,000 – even for those who did not choose private accounts and saddle our children with $4.9 trillion in new debt over the first 20 years.

Even worse, Bush's privatization plan would worsen Social Security’s financing problems. In a press conference on March 16, Bush admitted that his plan would not boost Social Security's financial situation. On the contrary, experts estimate that under Bush’s scheme Social Security will run out of surplus revenues in 2030, 11 years earlier than now projected, says the leading labor union.

As it stands Bush's plan looks less like a 'reform' than a means of dissolving Social Security altogether.

At stake is also the central question of racism. In a cynical attempt to convince some that Social Security needs 'reform,' Bush says that African Americans cannot fully benefit from the program because of low life expectancy rates and thus are hurt by it. Suddenly Bush is interested in the plight of African Americans?

Low life expectancy among African Americans has more to do with high infant mortality rates, lack of access to costly private health insurance, environmental racism, and a discriminatory criminal justice system that disproportionately hurts African American children and youth. When has Bush ever expressed an interest in tackling these serious problems?

Bush's maneuver angers Jarvis Tyner, a vice chair of the Communist Party USA, who, in a recent speech, called for stepping up the effort to block the Bush administration's attempts to dismantle civil rights. Tyner also challenged Bush's resistance to renewal of the Voting Rights Act, which is set to expire in 2007.

The People's Weekly World quoted Tyner: 'Bush’s phony Social Security ‘reform’ is more in-your-face racism,' Tyner said. 'How dare Bush use the mortality of Blacks to rationalize his effort to take their Social Security away? African Americans use and need Social Security more than any other group, as 11 percent of the work force but 18 percent of people using Social Security.'

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net.