Social Security privatization has been a long-standing priority of the GOP. President Bush and the Republican congressional majorities focused on it when they last won an election cycle in 2004 and the idea is reemerging as a GOP pledge this year. Privatization is a central tenet of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan, “a Roadmap for America’s Future,” and Reps. Dan Lungren (R-CA), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, senate candidates Sharron Angle (R-NV), and Ken Buck (R-CO) have all embraced Social Security privatization measures.
The right-wing Club for Growth’s “primary tactic” is to find candidates that will enthusiastically adopt measures like privatization and “support it loudly.” Indeed, the Club endorsed senate candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2009 when he supported privatization, saying he is “the real deal” and a “champion of economic liberty.”
But, after Wednesday night’s senatorial debate in Florida, the Club may want to reconsider its champion. During the debate, Rubio’s opponents Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) pounced on Rubio’s record for “being all over the map” on his privatization stance, citing previous times in which Rubio had touted the idea. Rubio said their claims were “blatantly untrue” and “lies.” But when pressed by moderator George Stephanopoulos to nail down his stance, Rubio firmly rejected privatization “because it doesn’t work”:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s — let’s try to wrap this up and then move on to the next round of questioning. On the question of privatization, you’ve raised some charges, as well. And I just want a yes or no answer. Is it still on the table?
RUBIO:It is not. Because it doesn’t work. Because you’re taking payers out of the sys[tem]. And I said that in March, by the way, in a debate. Governor Crist was sitting right next to me. I said it to the Wall Street Journal. But once again, the Governor’s mischaracterized my position. But once again, the Governor’s mischaracterized my position. He’s saying that this impacts seniors. Not a single senior watching this program would be impacted by any of the changes that I’ve discussed. Not one.
Crist and Meek were justifiably critical of Rubio’s stance on this issue. In late January, Rubio told newspaper reporters and editors in Tallahassee that “he favored giving younger workers the option of investing some of their payroll taxes ‘in an alternative to the Social Security System’” and endorsed the private account measure outlined in Ryan’s “Roadmap.” However, after giving his position some actual thought, he later determined that the time for privatization “has come and gone.”
Rubio’s Republican colleagues should take note of his awakening. Touting privatization as a budget reform measure that would not adversely affect seniors is “unrealistic” and “imprudent.” Not only would this type of reform create new administrative costs and force benefit reductions, it would impose significant risk on seniors and would actually cost more than the current system. Now if Rubio would just give his other stances similar thought, he just might have to part ways with his compatriots altogether.