"Brandini" is Back! After getting it right on Meet the Press, Kerry resumes misstating U.N. envoy Brahimi's s name. ...[Thanks to reader T.M.] ... P.S.: Make the same mistake three times and you open yourself up to cheap psychoanalyzing! Is Kerry's repeat Brandini-ing: 1) A reflection of his frustration that Bush's last-minute delegation of government-organizing power to the U.N. envoy steals one of his themes? 2) A reflection of his frustration that Bush's last minute delegation of government-organizing power to the U.N. envoy might actually work? 3) A ham handed attempt to express general contempt for Bush's actions; 4) A ham-handed attempt to dumb himself down for his audience, or at least not appear too sophisticated; 5) All of the above. ... You, the reader, make the call! ...10:26 A.M.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Did John Kerry endorse means-testing Social Security--shaving the benefits of the affluent elderly--on Meet the Press today? I think he did! Let's go to the transcript. Kerry's just been asked how he's going to make Social Security solvent. At first Kerry says he's "rejected" a 1995 statement of his that called for raising the retirement age and means-testing. But then he says:
SEN. KERRY: Tim, we're going to have a bigger economy. We have more Americans who are working. We have the ability to grow out of it. Now, if we don't do that--let me give you an idea. You and I earn a lot of money. We're very lucky. If you live to be 85, Tim, do you think it's right that somebody who earns $30,000 a year after you've gotten all your money out of Social Security, after you've gotten everything and more than you paid is paying you money? I think there are plenty of ways to look at things. We don't have to tell Americans it won't be there, because it will be there. And we certainly don't have to cut benefits to pay for George Bush's unaffordable tax cut. [Emph. added]
Sounds like a modified version of means-testing that would only kick in after rich retirees had gotten their contributions back in the form of benefits. Traditionally, any sort of means-testing has been anathema both to senior pressure groups and to Democrats, mainly because they fear affluent voters won't support the system if they don't get full benefits.** (It's also often said that means-testing will turn Social Security into "welfare"--a weak argument because you still have to work to qualify for Social Security, unlike for welfare.) ... Good for Kerry that he dares to take such an impolitic position in the middle of a campaign. Will he be forced to pathetically backtrack? My money says yes--if AARP doesn't slam him for it, the Bush campaign will. (There aren't many retirees in, say, Florida, are there?) ... But maybe Kerry's deliberately taking a controversial stand to show there's at least one issue on which he won't flip flop under fire. Let's hope. ..
[** Most famously, in 1985 Democratic party chairman Paul Kirk advocated means-testing at a breakfast meeting with reporters, and was forced within hours to issue a groveling press release saying, "I should not have mentioned the subject of a means test." The same year, Sen. Ted Kennedy said means testing would "repeal the New Deal and the New Frontier." ]
P.S.: In 1985, a proposal like Kerry's would have brought in big bucks, because retirees were then getting back much, much more in Social Security benefits than they'd put in. (They'd paid in during years when Social Security taxes were much lower than they are today). But it's not clear to me that the rich baby boomer retirees of the near future, like Tim Russert, will get back that much more than they've contributed--in which case Kerry's plan to deny them the excess won't recapture that much money. This is especially true if Kerry plans to give the Russerts their contributions plus interest (as will inevitably be demanded). ... It might be simpler and more effective--and more honest--to just pay the rich half their benefits and not pretend they're "getting everything" that they put in "and more." But I don't know the numbers. Somebody call Robert Ball!...
Update: According to this helpful online game from the American Academy of Actuaries, a straight-up means test--to "reduce benefits for those whose total retirement income exceeds $45,000 per year"--almost fixes the Social Security solvency problem by itself. (It's not clear from the Actuaries' site how severely the benefits are "reduced" in this option.) ... [Thanks to reader J.G.]7:22 P.M.
On the Chris Matthews Show this weekend, Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria noted that the timing of President Bush's package of concessions to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was bad for U.S. troops in a tense and dangerous situation in Iraq:
As a result of this you're going to have rising anti-Americanism in Iraq. And American troops are going to pay the price.