The leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate
doesn’t have much use for President Bush’s Social Security commission. (Jeez,
you’re saying, isn’t this a Wise Guys column from 1991? Is this the same kind
of technical snafu that results in last week’s lottery numbers getting published
again as yesterday’s? Or in last week’s lottery numbers getting published again
Of Mr. Bush’s appointees to the commission, Senator Tom
Daschle said that “the panel members on this Social Security commission would
be the equivalent of oil companies” having a say on the future of the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. Your correspondent’s friends and acquaintances were
stunned. Said one: “Does this mean that the oil companies do not have a say on the future of the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Isn’t that like having a zoning board made up
of only preservationists?” Another, not quite so persnickety, tried to guess
the identities of Mr. Bush’s appointees, figuring they would be the usual
suspects: white middle-aged male Republican investment bankers and big-thought
think-tank types who can’t wait to get hold of the nation’s retirement money so
that they might join more country clubs, drink more martinis and laugh more
often about the plight of the poor. Mr. Daschle’s words were that ominous:
“This is a stacked, completely orchestrated effort to come to a desired
result,” the Senator said. Oh, brother, thought I: W. must’ve recruited the
Yale baseball team from 1965.
Imagine our surprise when the news programs ran a portion of
the President’s statement on Social Security, and there in the background was
the slightly stooped figure of a certain former United States Senator who,
hunched or not, managed to tower over Mr. Bush and everybody else, for that
Moynihan(for those new to this
business, he was the man Hillary Rodham Clinton replaced in the U.S. Senate)
not only is among the commission’s members (and therefore, in Mr. Daschle’s
view, the moral equivalent of an oil-company executive pondering the fate of
unspoiled polar icescapes), but he will serve as co-chair of Mr. Bush’s
Apparently the rules governing Senatorial courtesy no longer
apply once you retire. One could hardly imagine Senator Daschle speaking so
dismissively of any one of his 99 fellow club members. But former Senator
Moynihan, having resigned his membership effective last January, is fair game;
his presence on a Social Security commission can be condemned as part of a
“stacked, completely orchestrated effort” to rubber-stamp the President’s wishes.
Mr. Daschle’s memory is as bad as his manners, for surely he
knows that Mr. Moynihan would hardly involve himself in anything that smacks of
pro forma . The former Senator’s
intellectual curiosity, his willingness to question received political dogma,
was among the traits that separated him from most of his colleagues. There is
every reason to believe that Mr. Moynihan will bring those very qualities to
the commission for which Mr. Daschle has so little regard.
In fact, while the
Democratic leader was fulminating about Mr. Bush’s appointees, Mr. Moynihan was
outlining his ideas to save Social Security, and he is not, wouldn’t you know,
in lock step with Mr. Bush’s emphasis on partial privatization of the trust
fund. Yes, Mr. Moynihan supports the idea of creating personal retirement
accounts, with workers controlling and investing a small portion of their
Social Security funds. Unlike some Republicans, however, Mr. Moynihan doesn’t
believe that partial privatization alone will keep the system solvent.
In a speech on May 2 sponsored by the Center for National
Policy, Mr. Moynihan made it clear that neither Mr. Bush nor the
pro-privatizers in Congress can rely on the market to save them from making
tough decisions if this centerpiece of the New Deal is to celebrate its
centennial in style. In his speech, Mr. Moynihan revisited his contention that
the Consumer Price Index overstates inflation and therefore triggers
unwarranted cost-of-living increases. That, he said, ought to be fixed
immediately. Furthermore, he proposed raising the retirement age to 70 by 2060,
taxing Social Security benefits just like any other pension benefit and raising
the benefit base to $99,000. These changes, he said, would keep Social Security
in the black, so much so that the Social Security tax could be cut from its
current 12.4 percent to 10.4 percent. The 2 percent saving would be used to
create individual retirement accounts, controlled by the workers themselves.
Mr. Daschle has little use for the latter reform, and Mr.
Bush doesn’t seem inclined to consider the difficult choices that, in Mr.
Moynihan’s view, have to accompany partial privatization. Still, though, it’s
not hard to figure where Mr. Moynihan’s sympathies are.
Of Mr. Bush, the former
Senator said: “Let it be recorded that the 21st century began with an avowedly
conservative President espousing perhaps the most progressive social insurance
measure since the New Deal.”
Imagine what Tom Daschle will make of that.