Chimpy McButtswagger can’t seem to convince his own party that Social Security is headed for a Big Scary Crisis.
Most alarming to White House officials, some congressional Republicans are panning the president’s plan — even before it is unveiled. “Why stir up a political hornet’s nest . . . when there is no urgency?” said Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.), who represents a competitive district. “When does the program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then.”
Simmons said there is no way he will support Bush’s idea of allowing younger Americans to divert some of their payroll taxes into private accounts, especially when there are more pressing needs, such as shoring up Medicare and providing armor to U.S. troops in Iraq.
Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), a member of the GOP leadership, said 15 to 20 House Republicans agree with Simmons, although others say the number is closer to 40. “Just convincing our guys not to be timid is going to be a big struggle,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of convincing,” which he said can be done.
“The politics of this are brutal,” one senior GOP leadership aide said, adding that the White House has yet to convince most House members that the “third rail” of American politics is somehow safe.
Outside Congress, several party activists are sounding similar alarms after word spread last week that Bush is planning to reduce future benefits as part of the restructuring. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is warning that Republicans could lose their 10-year House majority if the White House follows through with that proposal.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, is challenging the president’s assertions that Social Security is in crisis and that Republicans will be rewarded for fixing it. Republicans are privately “bewildered why this is such a White House priority,” he said. “I am a skeptic politically and a little bit substantively.”
“Why would you go home tomorrow having cut benefits in Social Security for a problem that might happen in 25 years?” said Gingrich, who supports private accounts but opposes benefit cuts to pay for them.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late December found that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Social Security system is in crisis, and the percentage that says the country is facing a Social Security crisis has gone down, not up, since 1998.
“I don’t buy the partisan argument that Republicans benefit by somehow carving up this Democratic program,” Kristol said. He contended it could undermine other GOP initiatives, such as making Bush’s tax cuts permanent, because it would sap money and the president’s political capital.