Dick Armey, the former House Majority Leader and current Chairman of FreedomWorks, has become something of a father to the Tea Party movement (even if only to exploit it for the benefit of his corporate clients). His latest gambit, however, may turn him into something of a pied piper as he leads Tea Party candidates down a path that is unpopular both with the general public and within the right-wing base of Tea Party movement itself.
In an op-ed published yesterday in USA Today — just days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Social Security Act — Armey renewed his earlier calls to privatize the popular entitlement program. Armey begins his attack by declaring that “the nation’s largest entitlement program is officially in the red.”
This, of course, is a flat distortion of the most recent report from Social Security’s trustees, which acknowledges that while the economic downturn means the trust fund will pay out more than it takes in this year, it will remain solvent and be able to pay out full benefits until at least the year 2037. Armey, who has also sued to exempt himself from the “tyranny” of Medicare, then goes on to resurrect many of the same tired arguments that doomed to failure President Bush’s deeply unpopular 2005 push to privatize Social Security.
As Chris Good at the Atlantic pointed out yesterday, Armey’s arguments about “upending” Social Security and effectively ending the program as we know it have caught fire amongst the many Tea Party favorites running for the Senate this year:
— Extremist GOP Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle has said Social Security needs to be “phased out.”
— Ken Buck, the newly minted GOP Senate nominee in Colorado, has questioned the constitutionality of the program.
— Marco Rubio, the GOP Senate nominee in Florida, has called for cutting benefits for younger Americans.
Unfortunately for Dick Armey and his cadre of Tea Party candidates, their proposals aren’t very popular with the public. A new poll released today finds that a whopping 85 percent of Americans oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit — with 72 percent “strongly” opposing doing so. What’s more, “half of non-retired adults would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure Social Security will be there for today’s older people.”
Another recent poll found that 59 percent oppose privatizing Social Security and Medicare. When asked how they would feel about a candidate who supported a plan mirroring Armey’s to phase out and privatize Social Security, 46 percent of voters said it would make them “very uncomfortable” and a further 21 percent had reservations about the idea.
Not only does the public oppose Armey’s extremist proposals, the mostly Republican core of the Tea Party movement doesn’t seem to care for them either. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, “Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on ‘waste.’”
The Times’ poll shows that when push comes to shove, the disproportionately older Americans that make up the Tea Party movement prioritize their benefits from the 75 year-old government entitlement program over their small government rhetoric.