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Needs-Tested Social Security
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Well holy crap. Bush reiterated his call for private accounts for Social Security last night, which he admitted won't solve the budget shortfalls. But he also proposed something that will...something I've been harping damn near every time I've talked about the issue:

First, millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees as well. As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Secondly, I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.

This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security.

Wow. Okay. The President is proposing that lower income retirees will get more benefits than higher income retirees. That's...what's the word? Progressive?

There are two politically dangerous ways of talking about reform of Social Security that no President has proposed before: 1) Raising the retirement age, or 2) Restructuring benefits.

Bush has just had the political courage to propose #2, in a primetime news conference. Here he is, friend of the rich, always doing what benefits the richest people in the country at the expense of the poor, proposing to cut benefits for wealthy retirees.

You'd think that liberals would be jumping for joy, right?

Here's Kevin Drum, one of the more moderate and readable Democratic bloggers:

I assume that "equal to or greater" is code for "indexing to inflation, not wage growth." In other words, guaranteed benefits, which today are based on wage growth, would be reduced by quite a bit for everyone except the lowest wage earners. But he didn't have the guts to actually say this, instead making it sound like no one's future benefits would be cut.

Presumably the unvarnished truth will come later, at some time when the president isn't on primetime TV. What a coward.

Lovely. If you needed clarification all you had to do was listen to the Q&A:

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about your ideas on dealing with Social Security solvency problems.

As I understand it -- and I know you'll tell me if I'm wrong -- benefits would be equal to what -- at least equal to what they are today, and then any increase in benefits would be indexed according to income, with lower-income people getting bigger increases.

Two things on that. Today's benefits probably won't mean much somewhere down the road. And how far are you going to go with this means-based program? Are you talking about ...

BUSH: Yes, I appreciate that.

QUESTION: ... a system where a rich person, say Dick Cheney, wouldn't get much out of it?

BUSH: Now wait a minute, don't get personal here, that's international TV. That's a cheap shot.

First of all, in terms of the definition of whose benefits would rise faster and whose wouldn't, that's going to be part of the negotiation process with the United States Congress.

As a Democrat economist had a very -- he put forth this idea. And he had a level of -- I think 30 percent of the people would be considered to be on the lower income scale.

But this is to be negotiated. This is a part of the negotiation process.

My job is to lay out an idea that I think will make this system more fair.

And the second question -- or the first question ...

QUESTION: [inaudible] ... it's a means-based program, where the real wealthy people might not get very much out of it.

BUSH: That's right.

A coward? Maybe you could argue that Bush isn't going to follow up on what he says, but why wouldn't liberals be extremely happy with a plan like this?

And in a government where the Democratic leadership has proposed nothing to solve the solvency problems of Social Security, who exactly is gutless here?

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