A bevy of Republican lawmakers and strategists — including self-styled “Young Gun,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — have recently taken to denying that the Republican agenda includes privatizing Social Security. Of course, plenty of Republicans have proposed doing just that, and in McCarthy’s case, his own book promotes a privatization plan.
Republicans are so desperate to avoid using the word privatization, in fact, that they are even claiming that the two highest-profile privatization plans — former President George W. Bush’s plan and Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Roadmap for America’s Future — wouldn’t actually privatize Social Security:
“I would argue that Bush’s plan is not privatization, and the road map is not privatization,” said Texas Rep. Michael Burgess, another co-sponsor of the road map measure. “Call it what you will. I would prefer people think about it as giving people options and choice. Right now, you have one option and one choice.”
Road map co-sponsor and Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia avoided using the word “privatization” when talking about Social Security, saying it only to accuse Democrats of misusing the term. “When you hear folks talk about privatization of Social Security, then it’s simply political demagoguery meant to divide people instead of fostering a sober, reflective discussion,” he said.
Let’s go straight to the source, shall we? In describing his plan, Bush said he wanted to “give younger workers the option, at their choice, of being able to manage some of their own money in the private sectors.”
Lest there be any mistaking it, he said during a different appearance that “our plan says, we’re going to keep the promise to our seniors, but we’ll allow younger workers at their choice to invest some of their own money in the private markets.” Bush even used the word “privatization” himself, though he later denied it.
For Price and Burgess to claim that Ryan’s Roadmap isn’t a privatization plan shows that they’re either willing to mislead people about a proposal they’re co-sponsoring or that they simply haven’t read the plan. The Roadmap clearly touts “the creation of personal investment accounts” that are “the property of the individual.” (Emphasis in the original document.) In fact, Ryan writes that a selling-point for his plan is that it will allow many people “to join the investor class for the first time.”
It was those who favored privatization that came up with the phrase in the first place, and then sought desperately to relabel it once it became clear that the word “privatization” scared people. As Paul Krugman put it, “the right discovered that ‘privatization’ polled badly. And suddenly, the term was a liberal plot.” But while they may shift their vocabulary, Republicans are not changing the substance of their agenda.