President George Bush has recently won reelection as the President of the United States. While he has remained clear and concise on many of his political stances, his position on Social Security has been one of at least marginal variation. His overall belief that the Social Security system should be reworked has not altered, but his position on the best way to do that seems to have changed from month to month. This paper will follow statements from President Bush since November of last year through the election, and will show that while his overall ideas have remained stable, the details of those ideas have changed.
It is important to note that the issue of Social Security reform is not new to President Bush. As early as July of 2000, President Bush was redesigning the Social Security system, beginning to introduce ideas of how to revamp the system to provide more benefits to more people, and to provide more options within those benefits. A Los Angeles Business Journal article in July of 2000 discussed Bush's "sketchy" proposal, which at the time was comprised of only the idea to allow people to hold parts of their Social Security taxes to invest in individual retirement accounts. It was presumed by the media at that time that these funds would be invested in stocks and mutual funds (Coombs, Shaffer, 12).
By November of 2003, the idea, slightly more detailed, was back in the news. A Washington Post article in November of that year reported that discussions had begun again at the White House regarding a Social Security overhaul. According to that article, Bush and his campaign were planning to open discussion about the "ownership society," which included employees having some control over their retirement finances. Instead of using a budget surplus of the Social Security funds, which was his previous campaign idea, Bush's new idea was to use a more high-stakes approach (Allen, A14). The groundwork was laid when Senator Lindsey Graham, after a lengthy discussion with Bush who supported the idea, introduced a proposal to Congress that would keep people above 55 in the Social Security program with no changes, but would allow those under 55 to contribute up to 4% of their payroll taxes into a personal account they would own and control (Lambro, online).
In January of 2004, President Bush outlined his plans for embracing immigration. In that plan, Bush referenced the idea that monies paid to the Social Security Administration during the immigrant's period of employment in the United States could be sent to them when they return to their home country. Bush made no mention at this time of the monies they would have the opportunity to invest and control, but instead only referenced the Social Security Administration's handling of their money (Stevenson and Greenhouse, online).
In February 2004, Bush reiterated his opinion that those near the age of retirement should not have to face any significant changes in the Social Security system. While he again mentioned his belief that the system did need to change, he also stated that Greenspan's mention of raising the retirement age to 67 and cutting benefits for those already over 65 were not ideas he himself had in mind (Andrews, A10). His plans, laid out in the February budget proposal, again mentioned allowing investors to annually put away after tax funds into retirement accounts that were tax-free. The money in the LSA (lifetime savings account) or RSA (retirement savings account) is money could be withdrawn for college, homes, cars, or anything, similar to an IRA (Wang, 25-26).
In March, President Bush appeared to almost support the existing Social Security system. Bush signed H.R. 743, the "Social Security Protection Act of 2004" which established laws against the misuse of funds by beneficiaries, and increased protections against fraud (Office of the Press Secretary, "President Signs Social Security Protection Act of 2004," online). Also, Bush admitted in response to a Kerry campaign ad that he did not attempt to repeal any of the tax increases on the Social Security funds. In the Bush ad that began the discussion, Bush condemns Kerry for those tax increases ("Taxing Social Security & Gasoline: Bush Attack Lacks Context," online).
However, also in March, Bush spoke to the National Association of Business Economists, and referenced the need for Social Security change, to accommodate the upcoming retirement of the baby boom generation. In this statement, he again appealed for support of the role of personal accounts in Social Security (Mankiw, online). Additionally, Bush was quoted in a statement to America as saying, "Younger workers should have this opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account." Critics noted Bush's push for personal private savings, rather than his previous push for personal Social Security accounts, again showing a subtle, but important twist in wording (Wang, 25-26).
In April, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign again reiterated the need for a change in Social Security, citing the Trustees for Social Security's estimates that the Social Security fund would be out of money by 2042 (Andrews, online). Rather than presenting the information as a move towards "social ownership," the Bush campaign appeared to be using scare tactics. This again showed a slight change, not of policy, but of political strategy.
In June, Bush responded to new calculations from the Congressional Budget Office that the Social Security deficit was not as dire as previously thought by going back to his original stance, that the youth should have a say in their retirement funds. The report, although it still projected a shortfall, discounted the figure by about a third. This brought more criticism of Bush's ideas to support private investment accounts (Associate Press, A09). Also in June, on the news that many large donors would not support his campaign due to differences of opinion on the Medicare plan and steel tariffs, Bush again pushed his reform for Social Security, on a more broad scale. While avoiding the phrase "privatization," the ideas presented were still in this realm (Kirkpatrick, online).
In August, Bush consistently stated his position that the baby boomer generation was fine, in terms of social security. However, he again flip-flopped between scare tactics of shortfalls in the system for the young, to promoting a social ownership idea of America. At a speech at the 2004 Farm Progress Show, Bush stated:
In changing times, it's helpful for younger workers to be able to take some of their own money and have a personal savings account in Social Security ....by the way, for baby boomers and older, we're in good shape in Social Security. Nothing is going to change because it's solvent for us. It is the younger workers we need to worry about (Office of the Press Secretary, "President's Remarks at the 2004 Farm Progress Show," online).
Yet in a rally speech just one day earlier, Bush stated, "We want people owning their own retirement accounts." (Office of the Press Secretary, "Remarks by the President and Mrs. Bush at Taylor, Michigan Rally," online).
Again, these two statements alone show Bush's continuing shift in language and in tactics. Bush switches again between the phrases of "retirement account" to "personal Savings account," a subtle change, but a drastic one. Since personal savings accounts imply the ability to use the money in any way seen fit, and since retirement account implies use only after retirement, such a subtle change can mean a drastic change in the opinion of the people. Additionally, Bush again changed between the scare tactics for the young to the idea of ownership.
The Bush campaign in September again outlined a plan for Social Security, sticking to Bush's original statements and covertly calling them "private accounts," without stating whether those accounts were savings or retirement accounts. He again pledged not to cut benefits from those already receiving them or from those close to retirement. Bush and his staff again denied the claims that they were attempting to privatize the Social Security system ("Scare Packages," 22).
During the Republican Convention, Bush was quoted as saying "We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account a nest egg you can call your own, and government can never take away." (Bush, 1) Here, we can again see Bush's verbiage of his ideas as "personal account."
However, in October, Bush was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article as stating he would "come out strong after [his] swearing-in on fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security" (PR Newswire, online). At the time, Bush was speaking to a room full of potential donors (Lawrence, B2). Yet days later, a spokesmen for Bush stated, "the president never used the word "privatized" because his plan would not privatize the system" (Chaudhuri, online). Again, it is easy to see how Bush's wording of the issue frequently changes with his audience.
By November, the discussion of Social Security had almost come…