Bush Leads Drive in Framing Another "Crisis"

Bush Leads Drive in Framing Another "Crisis" (Now Social Security)

The Bush administration this week set out to convince a skeptical public that Social Security is "heading for an iceberg" and promote private accounts as the answer.

President George Bush hosted an event eerily reminiscent of his election campaign where pre-screened participants touted White House policies. He took pains to reassure seniors that they will still get their checks and tried to target younger workers by warning that Social Security would be "flat broke" by the time they retired. He offered no details but promoted private accounts as the solution.

Privately, White House officials acknowledge that private accounts alone do almost nothing to address Social Security's future shortfall and benefit cuts will be needed.


"Those days of politicizing Social Security, I hope, are in the past."
- George Bush, 1/11/05

"Why stir up a political hornet's nest...when there is no urgency?"
- Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), 1/11/05, regarding the president's Social Security plan "The president is again crying wolf to justify an ideological agenda," said George J. Kourpias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. "Try as he may to blunt the political clout of America's seniors, we are not fooled. We do have a dog in this fight, and fight we will with all we have to protect, preserve and pass on Social Security to our children and grandchildren."

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security will be solvent until 2052 at which point it will be able to make 81% of its benefit payments. The Alliance believes minor adjustments should be made today to ensure Social Security's long-term health but is strongly opposed to private accounts because they cut guaranteed benefits, divert money from the trust fund and worsen the program's financial outlook.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), who replaces the late Rep. Robert Matsui as the chief Democrat on the House Social Security subcommittee, said "Social Security faces a challenge, not a crisis. Our first priority must be to prevent the Bush administration from wrecking that bedrock of income security protection."

Karl Rove Masterminding Social Security Campaign of Fear President Bush's "conversation on Social Security" event this week signals the beginning of a multimillion-dollar White House juggernaut, one that will adopt many of the strategies used in the president's re-election bid. Masterminded by Bush's top political strategist Karl Rove, the drive to privatize Social Security will use "campaign-honed techniques of mass-repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support," reports The Washington Post.

The White House is also relying on outside front groups like Progress for America, which has close ties to Rove and supports privatizing Social Security, to get out their message. The group has been airing ads on CNN and Fox News that use the image of Franklin Delano Roosevelt while promoting Bush's privatization plan. James Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of FDR, protested the group's use of his grandfather's likeness in a letter stating, "My grandfather would surely oppose the ideas now being promoted by this administration and your organization...I would ask that you cease using my grandfather's image in your advertising campaign." Progress for America said in a statement that it would continue running the ad in its entirety.

Despite the President's urgency, many Republicans remain resistant to his plans and question the wisdom of pushing them so hard. Some GOP members argue there are more pressing needs such as shoring up Medicare financing and the war in Iraq. Conservative editor William Kristol told The Washington Post that Republicans were "bewildered why this is such a White House priority...I don't buy the partisan argument that Republicans benefit by somehow carving up this Democratic program."

Bush Administration Proposes Premium Hike for Pension Insurance Agency

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced plans to raise premiums paid to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) by companies with traditional defined benefit pension plans. PBGC a government agency that insures 30,000 pension plans. Today it covers 34 million or 20% of the nation's workforce. The proposal would also give the PBGC more authority to set industry-based premiums. "We have to watch these developments very closely," said Ruben Burks, secretary-treasurer of the Alliance. "This could have unintended consequences of having pension plans terminated if the PBGC goes too far with its authority and premium levels."

Medicare Drug Card Enrollment Still Sluggish

Almost six months after the Medicare prescription drug discount card program was rolled out, the program has seen little interest from seniors. As part of the Medicare law, the drug discount card program was established for elderly Americans to save money, yet seniors often receive better benefits through Medigap, their retiree health benefits or their state prescription drug program. Many seniors also have trouble sorting out which discount cards provide the best benefits because there are dozens of different prices for the same medications.

Get the Facts on Social Security

MYTH: "This system of ours [Social Security] is going to be short...by about $11 trillion, unless we act. That's trillion with a 'T.' That's a lot of money, even for this town." - George Bush, 1/11/05

FACT: This exaggerated figure calculates Social Security's expenses-forever. Experts agree a more accurate figure is the trustees' projection for the next 75 years: $3.7 trillion. Hardly a "crisis" when you compare it with the cost over 75 years of Medicare's drug benefit: $8.1 trillion or Bush's tax cuts: $11.6 trillion. Private accounts are estimated to cost at least $2.2 trillion over coming decades and the national debt ballooned to $7.6 trillion during Bush's first term. That's trillions with a "T."


Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Bureau of Public Debt

Social Security Network


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Januar 2005

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