Santorum Exposed

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The Issue:

What does Rick Santorum have against Social Security, anyway?

  • Rick has led the charge for George Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security
  • Rick said he'd raise the retirement age to at least 70…and “would go even further” if he could
  • Rick thinks that Wall Street is a safe place for retirement security. Has he ever heard of Enron or WorldCom?
  • Like Bush, Rick tried to convince people that private accounts would “solve” Social Security’s possible solvency problem in 30 years
  • And like George Bush, Rick was forced to admit that his plans for private accounts would actually make the problem worse

What does Rick Santorum have against Social Security, anyway?

The Wall Street Journal stated the matter plainly in its March 12, 2005 story about Rick Santorum’s long-running crusade to privatize Social Security:

"…Mr. Santorum, the Senate Republicans' third-ranking leader and a nationally recognized conservative with White House ambitions, has emerged as the president's biggest backer on Social Security…. no one has privately pressed harder for wary Republicans in Congress to stick by the president and his private-accounts proposal -- and even to go for larger accounts."

And nobody has been pushing this bad idea longer than Rick Santorum who, the Journal points out, was busy trying to end Social Security as we know it back when George Bush was still a Governor in Texas.

In fact, Santorum has not only been at the forefront of the effort to replace guaranteed benefits with “Wall Street Roulette” for retirees, he’s been ahead of the pack in the push to slash Social Security benefits under the current system. In 1994 he made his view of the options clear:

“You can raise taxes, you can cut benefits or you can push back the retirement age in the future…It is ridiculous that we have a retirement age in this country at age 65 today. ...Push it back to at least age 70… I'd go even farther if I could, but I don't think I could pass it.”

Then, in 2002, he moved his goal from ending all benefits for retirees under the age of 70 to the goal of privatizing the system, claiming this:

"There are three alternatives--raise taxes...cut benefits or...we could establish personal retirement accounts."

Last year , George Bush decided that revamping Social Security with private accounts was a more important priority than saving Medicare, Medicaid or balancing the federal budget. So, despite a long Wall Street slump that has drained the nest eggs of millions of current retirees and involuntary pushed back retirement for many older Americans who now can’t afford it, Santorum set about trying to convince us that private accounts were the only cure for a Social Security system that everyone agrees will remain solvent for the next 30 years. Here’s what he said on CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer in January 2005:

“We have the opportunity to take a system that we know -- we know -- is going to need either benefit cuts or tax increases to remain solvent and at least give the opportunity to have little to no tax increases and little to no benefit cuts to solve the problem. That, to me, is the great hope that personal accounts, you know--come with personal accounts.”

In February 2005, he said:

“Obviously, in my mind, I have the best way to get there…which is personal retirement accounts.”

But a few days later, like George Bush, Santorum finally had to admit that his pet idea would actually do nothing to preserve the long-term solvency of Social Security. He had this exchange with Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet The Press:

Mr. Russert:  "But private accounts, personal accounts, Senator, alone do not solve the solvency problem."

Sen. Santorum: "No one’s suggesting that.”

Really? Unfortunately, that’s EXACTLY what Santorum had been – misleadingly – suggesting. In an Op-Ed published in The Hill on March 1, 2005, Santorum wrote:

Personal retirement accounts provide individuals—not the government—with control and ownership. And they hold the promise of a greater return for future generations than what they are promised by today’s Social Security system.

If we act now, we can establish personal retirement accounts and lessen the need for painful alternatives down the road. Personal retirement accounts offer new hope to young workers—hope that they will not be burdened with massive tax increases, painful benefit cuts, or both.

And yet, despite the wide public acknowledgment that private accounts actually have nothing to do with “saving Social Security,” Santorum has continued whenever possible to present them as essential to Social Security reform. For example, Santorum wrote in The Weekly Standard on April 19, 2005:

It is absurd to think that after having worked tirelessly to educate the public about the need for Social Security reform and the benefit of voluntary Personal Retirement Accounts (PRAs), Republicans would take PRAs out of the solution to fix Social Security for future generations.

By the time 2005 ended, President Bush had not submitted specific social security legislation to Congress and Congress had not acted on his privatization proposals, so a lot of people thought this idea was pretty much off the table.  But it's not. 

In fact, as a February 8, 2006 Washington Post article pointed out, "with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal" that he had just sent to Congress.

And, as recently as March 16, 2006, Santorum and the GOP-led Senate tried to reinvigorate their Social Security privatization plans with a vote on the DeMint-Crapo bill which Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) called "privatization of Social Security pure and simple.”  Other Democrats said the bill would have shifted "Social Security’s annual surpluses into a reserve account intended to be turned into risky private accounts."   Eight Republicans abandoned ship and voted with the Democrats to defeat the bill, but Santorum stood firm for privatization.

The question is, what does Rick Santorum have against a Social Security system that’s been the most popular and successful government program in American history—a program that millions of Pennsylvanians continue to depend on?

Maybe Rick Santorum thinks it’s a good idea to go back to the bad old days before FDR’s New Deal when millions of Americans were left in poverty at the whim of Wall Street. But now that his proposals to privatize Social Security have been exposed as a bad deal for average citizens, you’d think he’d pay less attention to his big campaign donors like the banks and stock brokers and more to the economic realities facing most working people and retirees.