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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Hey GOP Candidates, What Was That About Cutting Social Security?

Most of the Republican presidential candidates have wised up to the point where they don’t call for outright privatization of Social Security any more. But as the stock market heads south, they should not be allowed to evade their records as ardent supporters of various cuts in Social Security. As Sahil Kapur reports at Bloomberg Politics:

As they barnstorm the country trying to win supporters, Republican presidential hopefuls are regularly talking up the need to “save” Social Security by cutting it..But, in what may be an example of political prescience — or, at the very least, reason for political relief — given Monday’s stock market swoon, they’ve been mysteriously silent about one issue that many conservatives support: privatization. Instead of calling for private accounts that give seniors the ability to invest their Social Security benefits, with all the potential for reward and risk that implies, many of this year’s Republican candidates are calling for maintaining the structure of the popular federally-managed retirement program. Their plans for saving money: Making benefits less generous.

You may remember Jeb’s brother’s big push for privatization. Now, however, the GOP presidential wannabes are pretty quiet about cutting Social Security, compared to their stated positions quite recently. As Kapur notes,

This month in Iowa, Jeb Bush said he opposes the plan to privatize Social Security backed by his brother, former President George W. Bush. “It would’ve made sense back then. Now we’re we beyond that,” he said, calling for raising the retirement age and income-based means testing. Florida Senator Marco Rubio regularly discusses the need for Social Security changes like lifting the eligibility age for people under 55 and slowing the growth of benefits, but he doesn’t mention privatization. Texas Senator Ted Cruz backed private accounts as “transformative” during an April interview with CNBC, but he seldom, if ever, discusses it on the campaign trail.

Further, Bryce Covert reports at Think Progress, via Nation of Change:

In June, presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that he thinks the next president will have to try to privatize Social Security. Others have gotten behind the idea as well: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) drafted a plan in 2013 that included partial privatization, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is in favor of using private accounts. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has included privatization in his budget blueprints.

But don’t be fooled by the silence on Social Security among the GOP candidates. Social Security cuts and even privatization will resurface again, embedded as they are in the GOP’s DNA. As Kapur explains, “It continues to have strong support among Wall Street donors, influential fiscal conservatives and congressional Republican leaders. The lesson from the 2005 debacle was about branding.”
As for the Democrats, Kapur explains “Democrats, meanwhile, strongly oppose any kind of privatization of Social Security and generally oppose cutting the program at all. They’ve instead proposed addressing the long-term problems by raising the cap on income that is subject to Social Security payroll tax.” And with good reason, as Covert explains:

“What’s beautiful about Social Security is that in the long the return workers get on contributions is linked to productivity growth and wage growth,” said Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “Whereas markets are notoriously volatile and often behave in ways that are not based on the fundamental strength and weakness of the economy.”
Americans are already affected by those ups and downs of the stock market through their 401(k) savings, which have skyrocketed in recent decades. Privatizing Social Security would increase the risks they have to take on. “We have a system where workers are already far too exposed to the vagaries of the stock market,” Morrissey said. “We don’t need to be expanding that.”
…”The last stock market plunge in 2008 actually was the nail in the coffin of the idea of privatization,” Morrissey said. “It became very visceral for all the people who lost a huge amount of money in 401(k) plans.” But Republicans still seem intent on bringing the issue back to life.

You won’t hear much from Republican presidential candidates about the need for cutting Social Security until the memory of this latest stock market plunge begins to fade, and then they will crank up the cuts and privatization talk again. Democratic campaigns, however, ought to remind the public where the GOP candidates, presidential and otherwise, stand on Social Security as often as possible. Failure to do so would be political malpractice.

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