Political Commentator Dick Morris, famous first for letting his girlfriend-for-hire talk to President Clinton on the telephone and more recently for predicting early on that President Bush would win re-election, has turned in the worst column we have seen him write. Unfortunately, his advice to Bush on Social Security reform is only necessary because the President botched the explanation of Personal Savings Accounts (PSA). America understands there is a looming crisis with outflows set to exceed inflows in less than a decade. Outside partisan roadblocking, Americans understand that something must be done but there has been no leadership on what, how, or why from the White House or, obviously, from the opposition Democrats who were for Social Security reform before they were against it.
And that is George Bush's fault. He missed the key point of the PSA (that they will solve the funding problems of Social Security) and the opposition is more than happy to hang this around his neck. If he is going to be hassled for promoting free enterprise, he might as well promote it correctly.
PSA's save Social Security from insolvency in three steps: stopping the annual raid on surpluses while we still have them, letting individual choice create better returns to bring the system into balance, and reducing the need for taxes to fund future Social Security liabilities.
Stopping the annual raids: Payroll tax dollars meant for the Social Security Trust Fund are currently dumped into the General Fund and spent immediately. Creating optional PSA's would necessitate those dollars not needed for paying current liabilities to be placed in the PSA's. So honest accounting is advanced immediately by drying up the slush fund. When the program runs out of annual surpluses and starts borrowing to replace and then dole out the previously- raided Trust Fund, the government will already be weaned off that "funding source" and the transition will be somewhat easier than if we wait and go cold turkey when the inflows of payroll tax dollars become insufficient to meet current needs. This "transition" will happen under virtually any scenario and difficult choices will have to be made anyway. A little restraint now will make that an easier price to pay than it would be with further delay.
Individual Choice = Better Returns: PSA's will give every American the right to become a stakeholder in the future of Social Security. If you choose to fund a PSA with your payroll tax dollars, then the formula for your future benefits can be reduced by what you aren't contributing to the general pool. Compounded gains in your PSA over time will have little difficulty exceeding the paltry returns in the current system several times over. As a result, PSA holders will have less dependence on general payroll tax funds when they start drawing benefits. This leaves more money for those who need it (disabled, survivors, etc.). This key point is missed in virtually all discussion of reform and the President's opponents are making the most of the oversight. Meanwhile, if the misunderstanding is not corrected we all stand to lose.
Reduction of Future Payroll Taxes: As greater success is witnessed among those with PSA's, the need for payroll taxes to fund benefits will diminish. That is what the major opponents to reform are afraid of. What is President Bush's excuse?