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McCain on Social Security

By Matthew Yglesias  

"McCain on Social Security"

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One of the most frustrating aspects of politics is the biannual war of words over whether or not conservative politicians want to privatize Social Security. Privatizing Social Security is unpopular, so progressive politicians like to point out that conservative ones want to privatize it. Conservatives then deny a desire to do any such thing, protesting instead that they have only vague dreams of “fixing” it. Then the press shows up to accuse any Democrat who dares point out the obvious — that conservatives want to privatize Social Security — of distorting the truth.

At any rate, here’s John McCain giving his view on Social Security privatization:

Now here’s CQ on the subject:

In a much anticipated address at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton said, “John McCain wants to privatize Social Security.”

“Privatizing Social Security” is how Democrats refer to President Bush’s plan to allow workers to divert a portion of the program’s payroll taxes to personal investment accounts.

McCain has repeatedly warned that the Social Security system is going broke and needs to be fixed to meet the needs of future generations.

However, the senator is not proposing anything as ambitious — or as concrete — as what the president attempted to do in 2005.

And it’s true, McCain isn’t proposing a concrete program of privatization — because he’s frightened that if people were to obtain an accurate assessment of his views he would lose the election — but it’s also true that he wants to privatize Social Security, as witnessed by his statement that privatization is necessary over the long run. Note, though, that “privatization” isn’t just “how Democrats refer to President Bush’s plan” — it’s also how John McCain refers to his preferred Social Security policy. Now how much credence should we give to his campaign season self-reports about privatization? I would say very little, since it’s a subject he demonstrably lies about:

What’s more, interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in March, McCain “I’m totally in favor of personal savings accounts” in Social Security — i.e., privatization. When privatization was on the table in 2005, McCain supported it. Phil Gramm, one of McCain’s top economic advisers is a long-time privatization advocate. Cato’s Michael Tanner, a long-time privatization advocate, has observed that McCain is trying to obscure his record for political purposes:

During his years in the Senate, John McCain earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative and champion of entitlement reform. But on the campaign trail this year, “straight talk” has been very hard to come by. In discussing Social Security, Mr. McCain, who once favored slowing the growth in benefits and allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes, now speaks mostly in banalities about “reaching across the aisle” to achieve “bipartisan consensus.”

Stepping back, Social Security is the single largest program the federal government runs. John McCain is a major party presidential nominee. Accurately reporting the views of a major party presidential nominee on the fate of the federal government’s largest program is important. And it’s not too difficult! Google for “McCain Social Security privatization” and you’ll find plenty of accurate information, including video of McCain talking about the need to privatize.

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