Two Senate Democrats Open to Private Accounts
A second Senate Democrat said Friday he was open to President Bush’s idea of letting people divert some of their Social Security taxes to personal retirement accounts as Republican Party leaders tried to allay re-election fears among wavering GOP lawmakers. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said any plan should be bipartisan, in part to give lawmakers from both parties political cover for supporting major changes to such the popular retirement program. “I don’t believe that we should rule out the accounts,” Carper said Friday in an interview. “We have a very low savings rate in this country and clearly need to find ways to stimulate savings, and I think we should be open to a wide range of ideas and not dismiss them out of hand.” Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., also has said he is open to discussing the private accounts, saying he wants to see details.
No Senate Democrat has signed onto a Social Security bill, and most say they are absolutely opposed to taking money from the traditional Social Security system to create these accounts. Several Democrats do like the idea of creating personal accounts on top of regular Social Security benefits.
Even if Carper and Nelson sign on and all the Republicans follow the president’s lead–doubtful, to say the least–the bill as it now stands wouldn’t have enough support to survive a filibuster. Bush’s plan, while too tepid for my tastes, is almost certainly too big a departure from the present system to be done in one leap.
Given that Social Security is a bedrock issue for the Democrats, I don’t see Bush being able to simply pick off a handful of moderate Democrats (if that many still exist in the Senate) and push his version through. The only chance I see is for Bush to take Carper’s implied advice here and work with Democrats in crafting an alternative bill. There are no Daniel Moynihan’s left but I suspect there are a handful of Democrats who are willing to move beyond partisan politics to fix the problems with the Social Security system that all honest politicians acknowledge. Such a bill would likely include personal accounts, means testing, raising the retirement age, raising the ceiling on the payroll tax, and several other measures in small doses.