President Bush’s euphoria on the eve of his inaugural surely deflated slightly when the congressional Republican with final say over Bush’s planned Social Security reform called this centerpiece of his second term a “dead horse.”
The White House has yet to provide details, which presumably will come in his State of the Union address Feb. 2, with the hard numbers in the budget that goes to Congress the following week.
Republican backbenchers are leery of being asked to sell their constituents a plan they haven’t seen, and many of them are growing increasingly uneasy about the political repercussions in 2006 if the plan requires benefit cuts and massive borrowing.
Bush had great success in his first term by declaring a “crisis,” dropping a legislative package on the table and demanding that Congress pass it quickly. Now, with a strengthened majority, congressional Republicans are determined to enact their own agenda.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., is chairman of Ways and Means, the House committee directly responsible for Social Security and the taxes to pay for it. At a seminar this week, he pronounced the president’s plan “soon to be a dead horse of a proposal,” not because it was necessarily a bad idea but that “given the politics of the House and Senate,” it could not win passage.
While Bush will likely propose diverting a part of the Social Security payroll tax into private accounts, Thomas would like to replace the current regressive payroll tax with an altogether new financing mechanism as part of a sweeping tax reform — not at all what the White House envisions.
Once Bush and Thomas see what each has in mind, it’s vital that they cooperate, because it’s only by tackling Social Security that Congress can summon up the political courage to address a far graver and more imminent fiscal and demographic threat — Medicare.