Democrats Make Tactical Retreat On Social Security

The Democrats are realizing that their Social Security obstruction strategy isn’t working out for them politically:

House Democrats have decided to quit emphasizing that they will not negotiate changes to Social Security until President George W. Bush drops his idea for private accounts. The strategy switch comes after Democrats learned from focus groups that people frown on obstinate lawmakers.

“People feel like it doesn’t show a good-faith effort,” said a top House aide, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the internal data. “It makes us seem like we’re’typical politicians.’ “

The shift in tactics comes with Democrats and Republicans unsure what will happen after the end next month of a campaign-style, 60-day travel blitz by the president and administration officials who are promoting his plan.

“It may seem like a long time to you, but realistically, we’ve really just started,” Bush told the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week.

There are two lessons that can be derived from this: first, that the Democrats can’t count on the same obstructionism that has led them to devastating defeats in two straight electoral cycles, and second that if the Republicans stick to their guns on Social Security, a plan can be passed that provides choice and security for the system well into the future. The Democrats have been successful in stalling Bush’s Social Security agenda, but they haven’t stopped it. Bush is employing the same strategy he did during the elections: forgetting about the horribly biased major media and hitting local media outlets, going directly to the people. The status quo is that private accounts are DOA — when in reality plans like the Hagel plans that combine optional private accounts with some structural changes to the program remain politically viable.

The Democrats are no longer the politically savvy party of the Clinton spin machine, and their attempts to stall Social Security are beginning to backfire on them. Now is the time for the President to make a major push on this issue while the Democrats are vulnerable. The future of Social Security rests on reforming the system now, and allowing Social Security reform to languish only emboldens the Democrats to continue their patterns of obstructionism.

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