Crisis or opportunity?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) notes today that the best way to get someone to fix a roof today is not to say it’s going to collapse in a decade’s time.

Similarly, neither Congress nor the public is greatly exercised yet by the purported need to fix the nation’s retirement system, even though both the current (Republican) president and the former (Democratic) one have said it needs repair. A poll in yesterday’s Washington Post revealed that 56 percent of people disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the issue, even though he has done a good job of convincing more than two-thirds of Americans that the system is heading for crisis.

Bush has stressed that the system will be bankrupt in the year 2042 — Democrats dispute that — and will start paying out more than it takes in far sooner, in 2018. But both those dates likely seem a long way off, not least to politicians who face reelection battles in less than two years.

The administration has not lost the battle — it’s much too early to say that — but it evidently isn’t winning either, and it may be time for a new approach emphasizing a current opportunity rather than a distant crisis.

Opponents of reform have stressed that a Social Security revamp with privately owned accounts investing Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds is a big gamble. But there are proposals that do not involve risk to individual taxpayers. The reform put forward by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanYou just can't keep good health policy down Trump blasts Congress for sending him omnibus bill that 'nobody read' Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) includes a government guarantee that those who choose to open personal accounts — and it would be voluntary — would have a commitment from the federal government that they will receive at least the same retirement income that they would under the existing Social Security system.

People who have been in this town may shudder, remembering the thrift crisis of the mid- and late 1980s in which government guarantees gave the savings and loans an incentive to pump capital into the riskiest investments. The combination of total deregulation with a government guarantee was hugely costly. But it is possible to regulate the types of investments that Social Security taxes may be put into, with, perhaps, a sliding scale of risk according to age.

Young people who would be affected by Social Security reforms — unlike older people, who would not — might very well shake off their apathy if the administration presented the personal accounts as a chance they should seize on their way up in life rather than as a cause of anxiety somewhere over the horizon in their distant decrepitude.

We take no view of whether Congress should or should not reform Social Security, but it’s worth pointing out that Capitol Hill is unlikely to leap into action unless there is public pressure for it to do so.


What the media say

The Wichita Eagle
Something Kansans should keep in mind as the State Board of Education evolution flap continues to generate sound and fury:

There’s little controversy in the state’s science classrooms. As an article in Friday’s Eagle reported, area science teachers find that, by and large, students have no problem with evolution.

The teachers’ experience doesn’t support complaints that children are routinely humiliated and censored in science classrooms for bringing up alternative theories. …
Critical thinking is a major component of this approach — also contrary to critics’ charges.

So, if teachers and students aren’t grappling with evolution, except to understand it, and if the scientific community largely speaks with one voice on the subject, why all the fuss?

What we have here is a political controversy, not a scientific one. And this “controversy” exists largely in the minds of creationists unwilling to accept that science and religion are entirely different species, operating in different spheres.— March 15

Billings Gazette
A food fight in Congress threatens to pit producers against consumers with everyone entangled in President Bush’s push to cut domestic spending.

Powerful Southern legislators are adamant about protecting agricultural subsidies for rice and cotton growers. These Southerners receive some of the richest payments in the USDA farm program. President Bush has proposed limiting subsidies to $250,000 per farmer annually as well as cutting all crop subsidies. …

The House and Senate plan to vote on initial budget resolutions this week. Even though the final budget is months from completion, cutting nutrition is a bad idea that needs to be buried now.

Neither farm programs nor food stamps or school lunches caused the federal budget deficit. The deficit is the result of federal income tax cuts (primarily for the wealthiest Americans) and rapidly growing spending on war and defense.

We call on Montana’s congressional delegation to stand up for school kids and poor families as well as our family farmers. Don’t sacrifice one for the others.— March 15