Two Senate Democrats Open to Private Accounts

Dem Says He’s Open to Private Soc. Sec. (AP)

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Right. . . because the only movement has to come from the democrats. As we know, bipartisanship means moving from the left to the right.

  2. James Joyner says:


    Actually, the nature of compromise is that movement would come from both sides. The Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress. Still, they need support from the Democrats to get this done. So, Bush will have to listen to suggestions from Democrats and give in on some of his preferences.

  3. Hal says:

    Right. . . I believe this tactic is called bait n’ switch. Problem is, we’ve been burned too many times over the past 4 years by these jokers.

    Why on earth should we believe them now and negotiate in good faith? Particularly with all the outright distortions that have been the opening gambit on this issue?

    I mean, his solution won’t even fix the problem and will actually make it worse.

    Good faith negotiating, my asterisk

  4. Hal says:

    BTW, the whole Medicare bill – 790B to 1.2T – makes me have so much faith in this Administration. I mean, leaning on the people to not tell people who were voting on the bill what it’s actual price would be? Wow! That’s like so trustworthy, dude! And we keep finding out there’s hundreds of billions more on the tab!

    Dude! Credibility has been lost.

  5. SoloD says:

    Private Accounts as an addition to Social Security is something that many Democrats will discuss, and may ultimately embrace.

    Private Accounts in place of Social Security is something that no Democrat will end up supporting.

    Think of it this – as tax cuts are to Republicans, mainting Social Security as an insurance againt elderly poverty is to Democrats. It is a bedrock issue.

    (And, it surely is worth adding, private accounts will do nothing to “save” Social Security, as even the WH admits quietly.)

  6. James Joyner says:

    Sure, privatization helps save SS. The problem with the system is that it’s a pure inter-generational transfer. As people live longer and fewer young people work, this is unsustainable. Thus, it’s a long-term solution. The problem is the long transitional period–paying current retirees with even less money coming in from young workers deferring part of the money that would have gone to paying the retirees to their own accounts.