Last week, Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for Senate, Pat Toomey, touted his plan for privatizing Social Security, without actually using the word privatization. “I’ve got a whole chapter in a book that I wrote that deals with how I think, one of the ways I think we could reform Social Security to make it viable,” Toomey said. “That would be a very important start.”
A section of the chapter which Toomey referenced is called “Personal Accounts Lead to Personal Prosperity.” And when President Bush released his plan for privatizing Social Security, Toomey said, “I have been arguing for many years in favor of Social Security personal retirement accounts. “I’m thrilled that the President is taking up this critical issue,” Toomey added.
But when directly asked at the Pennsylvania Press Club yesterday whether he still favors privatization, Toomey actually replied, “I’ve never said I favor privatizing Social Security”:
Q: Do you continue to favor privatizing Social Security?
A: I’ve never said I favor privatizing Social Security. It’s a very misleading — it’s an intentionally misleading term. And it is used by those who try to use it as a pejorative to scare people…[T]hat doesn’t mean that we must perpetuate exactly this structure for future workers and for very young workers. So I’ve advocated that we consider offering young workers an alternative — a reform within Social Security that would give them the opportunity to take a portion of their payroll tax and actually save that and own that and allow that to accumulate over the course of their working years and for that to provide a portion of their retirement benefit. I think that’d be a very constructive reform, and that’s what I’m going to advocate.
Toomey seems to be under the impression that if you aren’t in favor of privatizing all of the Social Security system then you aren’t in favor of privatizing, period. But make no mistake, Toomey absolutely favors privatizing a portion of the program, as he makes painfully clear through his advocating that young workers “own” an account. Such privatized accounts would have experienced sharp negative returns in the market turmoil of 2008.
As Josh Dorner noted, a recent CNN poll “found that 59 percent oppose privatizing Social Security and Medicare.” 46 percent of voters said such a plan would make them “very uncomfortable” and a further 21 percent had reservations about it. Toomey tries to dress this up by not calling it privatization, but his formula is the same one that was roundly rejected when President Bush tried it in 2005.