About two months ago I posted about the impending social security debate.
Anybody know what the Democrats’ position is on ensuring the long-term viability of social security? We know what Bush wants, though we need more details. And Congressman Bill Thomas has a few ideas, like making it gender-specific. But what do the Democrats want? That we can’t articulate it sums up the problem with da Dems. They have no position except to be opposed to Bush’s.
That post generated comments. To one of them I argued
While I acknowledge that Bush is unnecessarily yelling “fire” – and that getting our fiscal house in order is always a good idea — I think now would be a good time for Democrats to present a plan for the long-term viability of social security. For one, it presents Democrats as thinkers. Right now, Dems are all considered knee-jerk protectors of the status quo. They should be perceived as the party of ideas or they’ll never recapture power.
Now would be the time to talk about long-range changes to the SS system, including means testing. SS was meant as insurance against old-age poverty. [Original comment edited for clarity] Seniors with incomes over $100,000 not only receive SS payments but do so long after they’ve recouped what they put into the system. Maybe 100k isn’t the threshold, but I think if combined with the idea of increasing payments to those below the threshold, the Dems could present themselves as the party of the middle class. Such a move would be an increase in the progressiveness of the tax system.
Today, The Washington Post reports two veteran Democratic strategists are arguing the same thing.
The party’s situation was posed most provocatively by two veteran Democratic strategists, Stan Greenberg and James Carville. In a memo issued last week, the two wrote: “We ask progressives to consider, why have the Republicans not crashed and burned?”
“Why has the public not taken out their anger on the congressional Republicans and the president?” they added. “We think the answer lies with voters’ deeper feelings about the Democrats who appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose.”
Whatever you think of Bush, you’ve got to give him credit for his willingness to touch the third rail of politics. Long-range, Social Security does have problems — problems that are better addressed today when we have more options and a longer political perspective.
Bush has already won one battle: He has convinced Americans, especially those who will be voting for another 40-50 years, that there is a problem.
In their analysis, Greenberg and Carville said Democrats have resisted saying there is a problem with Social Security, even though 63 percent of Americans in a recent National Public Radio poll said there was. “To say there is no problem simply puts Democrats out of the conversation for the great majority of the country that want political leaders to secure this very important government retirement program,” they wrote. “Voters are looking for reform, change and new ideas but Democrats seem stuck in concrete.”
The voters Carville and Greenberg are alluding to don’t go to the polls until 2006. Here in Virginia, the polls open this November.
Is there an analogy in the Commonwealth? What’s the biggest issue facing us? Most say it’s transportation. So what’s the Dems transportation plan?
If you look to the top of the ticket, Tim Kaine’s web site doesn’t offer many concrete ideas, expect that he’ll save money by insisting VDOT is more efficient. He’ll also lock up the transportation trust fund and push for better linkage between transportation plans and land use plans.
As we better link land use and transportation planning, we will spend our money more wisely. As one example, Richmond provides a significant property tax break to people who perform major renovations of existing buildings. This tax break encourages the continuous redevelopment and reuse of existing structures, which brings reinvestment into the core of already settled areas. By encouraging more activity near our job centers, we help slow down the need for sprawl and the need for expensive road development into the far suburbs. This smart policy choice encourages positive development, helps people live closer to work, provides good construction related and other jobs for our workforce and utilizes existing transportation infrastructure rather than creating a need for new roads. We have to find similar incentives to take advantage of existing road and public transportation networks.
(Smart growthers might argue that renovating old office buildings in downtowns doesn’t do much to attract people to live downtown and it certainly doesn’t bring the jobs to where the people are now living.)
Kaine also has said that gasoline taxes are not off the table. But still, I don’t think even after the man in the street reads Kaine’s position, he would be able to put it into a few words. How will Kaine address the transportation mess?
Fortunately, Jerry Kilgore has even less of a plan.
Jerry Kilgore is committed to looking at innovative and forward-looking initiatives that free up capacity on our existing network of roads by recognizing that transportation is a service that should be treated like other goods and services — allowing the private sector to meet the demands of consumers in an open and free marketplace.
Kilgore is supportive of using a budget surplus for one-time capital projects, such as building new roads and bridges; a constitutional amendment to put the “trust” back in the transportation trust fund; and effectively using public-private partnerships for the maintenance of existing roads and construction of new roads, as part of an overall transportation plan.
When are people going to get over the notion that the private sector can do it any better?
Maybe the task and expense of building a field organization, making speeches and courting the press leaves little time for campaigns to really think about the issues. But as Bush has proven with Social Security, a willingness to put forth some ideas and facts (even spurious ones) about an issue can help generate action.
And in fairness to Kaine, he’s not campaigning against any of Kilgore’s ideas, because Kilgore doesn’t have any. But the difference is Kilgore is a Republican in a red state. The minority needs to generate reasons for voters to switch parties.
Wonder when the Carvilles and Greenbergs of Virginia politics will write a memo lamenting the Virginia Democrats’ lack of “direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose”?