Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Don't cheer yet

I would caution against reading to much into the following:

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) predicted yesterday that partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush's plan "a dead horse" and called on Congress to undertake a broader review of the problems of an aging nation.

Thomas, one of Capitol Hill's most powerful figures on tax policy, is the highest-ranking House Republican official to cast doubt on the president's plan for creating individual investment accounts. He said that as an alternative, he will consider changes such as replacing the payroll tax as Social Security's financing mechanism and adding a savings plan for long-term or chronic care as "an augmentation to Social Security payments."

"What I'm trying to get people to do is get out of the narrow moving around of the pieces inside the Social Security box," Thomas said at a forum on Bush's second term sponsored by the National Journal. "If we miss this opportunity . . . I think we will have missed an opportunity that may not present itself for another 20 years."

The good news is that Thomas has provided us with the perfect sound bite. But if you read deeper into Thomas' comment it appears that he is gunning for an even more fundamental restructuring of government financing than even Bush is proposing.

The push back on Social Security has to come as a real surprise to Bush(Rove). But we shouldn't get cocky. Bush(Rove) is an expert at shifting gears radically and then claiming credit for the final results. Think Homeland Security Department. Think 9/11 commission. Think Intelligence Reform. All of these efforts were initially opposed by Bush(Rove). But when it became apparent that they would pass regardless of his opposition, he did a complete about face, became their biggest cheerleaders, and then boasted of his own initiative in bringing them about.

Similarly, whatever form of Social Security "reform" that passes, you can bet that Bush(Rove) will claim that it is exactly what he wanted all along.


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