Sunday, January 16, 2005

Flyin' high with George W.

The Washington Post today published an extensive interview with President Bush conducted aboard Air Force One, and it provoked all kinds of reactions, ranging from happiness to outrage. As a helpful guide to this very long post, I'll label each main point with a "Yay" or "Boo."

Boo: The Post reports that Bush said "there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath." As Bush said, "We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections."

So after a 3-percentage-point win, Bush apparently believes he has the complete, undying, irreversible support of the American public and therefore doesn't need to take his advisers to task, no matter what a terrible job they've done. Simply outrageous.

Yay: Bush said he won't push Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, at least as long as the Defense of Marriage Act is on the books. As I said shortly after the election, gay-baiting is an effective campaign tool for social conservatives, and a constitutional gay-marriage ban would make it much more difficult for them to keep scapegoating gay people.

I also suspect Bush really doesn't care what people do in the bedroom and that he just used gay marriage as a way to get votes in November. Regardless, he's to be commended for resisting the pressure to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution.

Boo: Bush's answer to a question about why Osama bin Laden hasn't been found yet? "Because he's hiding." Well, that's certainly a good punch line to an elementary-school joke, but I doubt it's very comforting to the families of the 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Remind me again why the administration sent 150,000 troops to scour the deserts of Iraq instead of the mountains of Afghanistan.

Yay: Bush said he doesn't plan to make any changes to Social Security disability or survivor benefits. "Frankly, our discussions in terms of reform have not centered on the survivor-disability aspect of Social Security," he said. Good.

Boo: Bush intends to go full speed ahead in pushing to allow younger workers to divert part of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts. I give this one a "Boo" with some reservations, since I still haven't seen the specifics of the plan. I'm also very sympathetic to the principle underlying this proposal: making people more personally responsible for their retirements.

Still, the realities of the situation make this a bad idea. As many economic analysts have noted, Social Security will still be able to pay full benefits until at least 2042 and about 75 percent of benefits after that, so the "crisis" is nowhere near as alarming or urgent as some folks would lead you to believe.

Since our Social Security payroll taxes are spent immediately to pay current recipients' benefits instead of being set aside for our retirement, the creation of private accounts would force the federal government to borrow billions of dollars to make up for that lost revenue. Also, who would ensure that the diverted payroll taxes actually go into retirement investments? Sounds like we would need yet another expensive layer of government bureaucracy to oversee the process. I'm not a fan of going into debt or adding bureaucracy unnecessarily.

There are plenty of suggestions for shoring up Social Security without privatization, including raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, which now sits at $90,000. If we're going to worry about a huge government entitlement program teetering imminently on the edge of insolvency, there's always Medicare.

Yay: Bush said he knows many traditional U.S. allies opposed the Iraq war, and he said he will send newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a worldwide diplomacy tour to "[explain] our motives and [explain] our intentions." I'm not very confident that the tour will get results, but at least Bush is saying the right things when it comes to trying to mend fences.

Boo: Bush said it was good to force the District of Columbia to spend $11.9 million of its homeland security money on security for his inauguration and the related parties instead of having the federal government pick up the tab. "I think it provides [the inauguration attendees] great comfort to know that all levels of government are working closely to make this event as secure as possible," Bush said.

Well, as long as someone is paying for your awesome parties.


Blogger Chosun_1 said...

Re: Social Security. I would have no problem with SS if all the money I paid in went to my family upon my demise. After all, it is MY money, right? The sad fact is that if I don't live long enough to draw SS, my family gets squat and what was once MY money now goes to someone I don't even know. Think about that for a while, and then give his plan a yay, not a boo.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

As I said, Chosun_1, I agree that people should take personal responsibility for their retirements. I'm certainly doing so, and I'm sure you are as well.

But you'll notice the program's name is "Social Security," not "Individual Security." The program is Americans' way of saying that we as a society have decided that elderly people should be able to maintain at least a minimal standard of living even if they made bad financial decisions and weren't very productive during their working days.

You may disagree with that policy choice, and it's your right to do so. However, I think human decency demands that we protect the least among us, even when we don't get anything tangible in return.

Taxpayers don't get their own Social Security tax money back; that goes to current recipients. You also don't have an individual Social Security account set aside for your retirement. Under the current system, you pay for the benefits of today's retirees, and the 30- and 40-year-olds of tomorrow will pay your benefits. Of course, you're always free to set up your own retirement account independent of government programs.

Social Security's basic theme is "pay it forward." That stems from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to pay benefits immediately to the retirees of the 1930s who paid little or nothing into the system. The diversion of payroll taxes into private accounts would leave a huge hole in the revenues used to pay today's benefits, which would force the government to borrow billions of dollars to make up the difference. I've never liked going into debt unless I had to, and I want my government to adhere to the same standard.

Almost all of our tax money goes to other people, but we usually still get something in return. Your taxes might pay for roads elsewhere, but someone else's taxes pay for your roads. Your taxes might pay to educate children you don't know, but someone else's taxes paid to educate you and your children. Your taxes might pay for a stranger's Social Security, but someone else's taxes will pay for yours.

This blog's court of appeals has reviewed the lower-court ruling of a tentative "boo," and that judgment is hereby affirmed.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Nick Beadle said...

I think that the Hoover Department of Homeland Security should pay to get me loaded every weekend.

Hey, it'd be money well-spent given that there's nothing in Hoover worth securing that's valuable to the homeland. in Hoover (sorry, Panera Bread). Plus, getting me drunk makes me less likely to attack Hoover because it's a yuppie commercial oasis of idiocy, so the agency would be fulfilling its purpose.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

So we've figured out how to spend 59 cents. What now?

1:35 AM  

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