By Travis Waldron
That House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) supports the privatization of Social Security is well known. Ryan proposed $1.2 trillion in cuts and the partial privatization of Social Security upon taking control of the Budget Committee in 2011, and he has constantly warned about the supposed doom facing the program if major reforms aren’t enacted immediately.
But Ryan’s attempts to gut the most popular entitlement program in America go back quite a few years, as Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of the conservative hero makes clear. Ryan’s fight against Social Security has been ongoing since he pushed President George W. Bush to privatize the program in 2005:
Under Ryan’s initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan’s plan was clear. [...]Bush ultimately went with a slightly less radical proposal that still failed in the Senate and caused Republicans massive losses in the 2006 mid-term elections. But Ryan, undeterred, told Lizza that the failure of privatization was simply due to marketing, not that the plan was unpopular:
Two weeks after Bush’s Inauguration, Ryan gave a speech at Cato asserting that Social Security was no longer the third rail of American politics. He toured his district with a PowerPoint presentation and invited news crews to document how Republicans could challenge Democrats on a sacrosanct policy issue and live to tell about it.
What some might interpret as the failure of an unpopular idea Ryan insisted was mostly a communications problem. “The Administration did a bad job of selling it,” he told me. Bush had campaigned on national-security issues, only to pitch Social Security reform after reëlection. “And . . . thud,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to prepare the country for these things. You can’t just spring it on them after you win.” The lesson: “Don’t let the engineers run the marketing department.”Aided by the mainstream media’s spreading of the lie that Social Security is “going bankrupt,” Ryan has been able to thrust Social Security “reform” back onto the table, and it was embraced during the primary by virtually every Republican candidate.
What Ryan and his Republican colleagues continue to ignore, however, is how easy fixing Social Security would be if they weren’t so insistent on protecting the wealthiest Americans from a single tax increase. By lifting the payroll tax cap that currently limits Social Security contributions to the first $110,100 in income, Congress could ensure the program’s solvency for the next 75 years — longer than the program has been in existence to this point.
That wouldn’t fit Ryan’s belief that the government doesn’t have a role in helping protect the financial security of the American people. But it would prevent millions of Americans from losing the much of their retirement savings, as they would have during the 2008 financial crisis had Ryan’s plan to privatize Social Security become law.