- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

As President Bush approaches America’s “third rail of politics” determined to solve Social Security’s long-term funding crisis, he is taking political fire from all ideological fronts. Last week, word spread that the White House looked favorably upon Plan 2 from the 2001 President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security. That plan would reduce scheduled benefit increases in exchange for allowing workers voluntarily to divert 4 percentage points of their Social Security payroll tax into individually controlled Personal Retirement Accounts.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently declared, “Anything that changes benefits on an involuntary basis will allow Democrats, the AARP and the unions to beat our brains in. It isn’t politically doable.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to policy flip-flops, liberal New York Times pundit Paul Krugman demonstrated that John Kerry was a piker. In 1996, four years before George W. Bush was first elected president, Mr. Krugman fawningly — and correctly, it must be noted — endorsed the thesis of Peter Peterson’s book, “Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old: How the Coming Social Security Crisis Threatens You, Your Family and Your Country.” In it, Mr. Krugman asserted, “The budgetary effects of this demographic tidal wave are straightforward to compute, but so huge as almost to defy comprehension.” He warned that “the crisis” was “just over the horizon.” In November, eight years after Mr. Krugman warned of the “demographic tidal wave” that was “just over the horizon,” he declared in his NYT column that “it’s a problem of modest size,” a view echoed by his paper’s editorial page.

Well, for all the attacks Mr. Bush has been enduring from the left and the right, it must be noted that the general outline of his bold reform inclinations recently received an unquestionable — and welcome — thumbs-up from a source not inclined in the past to support his domestic initiatives. The Jan. 9 editorial page of The Washington Post asserted, “Some sort of cost control is likely to be part of any honest reform to the system, and the Bush proposal has some logic.” Noting that “these cuts sound harsh,” The Post explained, “that’s partly because the current system makes promises that aren’t affordable.”

While The Post called for “[g]entler cost control, designed to protect the vulnerable above all,” the paper also effectively repudiated the Democratic position by arguing that “it’s not responsible to fix Social Security’s funding shortfall exclusively by raising taxes.” Controlling costs, then, makes common sense.

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