One of the most important things for a politician to know is when to declare victory. President Bush can’t figure that out when it comes to dealing with the difficult issue of Social Security.
The president has done an admirable job of elevating the Social Security solvency issue to one that the public understands. He has talked about it repeatedly since the beginning of his second term in January, and the public now accepts that something needs to be done to keep this vital program solvent when it starts to run low on money in 2042.
The president could now join with Democrats in proposing some basic measures that will save enough money to keep the program solvent for at least the next 75 years. That would be a real victory for the administration and for Congress.
Unfortunately, the president is incapable of declaring victory. He stubbornly persists in trying to sell the public his privatization scheme -- which has nothing to do with Social Security’s long-term solvency and which the public roundly rejects. That was clear once again in his press conference on May 31.
Someone needs to tap him on the shoulder and say, “Mr. President, quit while you are ahead and take a victory lap rather than falling off the cliff.”
The outline of an appropriate compromise has been obvious for months now. If Congress would do a combination of increasing the retirement age and increasing the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxation, the program would be solvent for the foreseeable future.
Currently, early retirement is at age 62, and full retirement, which was originally at 65, is being gradually raised to 67 over a number of years. A very significant number of people opt for early retirement at 62.
This could be raised to either 63 or 64, and the age for full retirement could be raised to 68. Remember, 65 was established as the age for full retirement in the 1930s, when life expectancy was much less.
Currently, the first $90,000 in wages is subject to Social Security withholding. Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, has proposed raising this figure to $145,000. Rep. Rob Wexler, D-Fla., recently proposed a variation of this same idea.
Raising the retirement age will be seen as a cut in benefits and increasing the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxation will be seen as a tax increase, but no one ever said fixing Social Security would be easy. However, these changes are relatively modest when compared with tax increases or benefit cuts that would be necessary years from now if Congress and the president fail to act this year or next.
As a Democrat, I am somewhat reluctant to offer sound political advice to the Republican president, but this particular issue is too important to delay because of one person’s stubborn streak. Mr. President, take your victory lap and let’s put this issue behind us.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.