Bush's Tipping Point

By Kuttner, Robert | The American Prospect, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Bush's Tipping Point


Kuttner, Robert, The American Prospect


THE GREAT SOCIAL SECURITY BATTLE OF 2005 COULD well be remembered as the tipping point that ended George W. Bush's remarkable winning streak. It's now clear that Democrats are not about to provide Bush bipartisan cover for privatization. Even usually reliable Republicans are putting some distance between themselves and the president.

Bush and his allies control the legislative calendar, but for once, time is not on Bush's side. Privatization might have won a quick legislative victory had Bush just rammed a bill through Congress on the momentum of his election win. But the longer the privatization proposal twists in the wind, the more the media, wavering Republicans, and ordinary voters become conversant with the details--and the worse the plan looks. The Democrats had put their post-election grief behind them by late February and recovered some energy, and the prospect of defeating Bush on a signature proposal has been quite a tonic for them. After a slow start, the AFL-CIO, AARP, and the Democratic Party itself are delivering some nice counterpunches.

One by one, key Republicans have distanced themselves from the idea, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Usually friendly columnists such as David Brooks in The New York Times and Sebastian Mallaby in The Washington Post have written unfriendly columns, with Brooks proposing Democratic-sounding add-on private accounts as a compromise and Mallaby warning of the hidden Mickeys in Bush's approach. As Bush's budget was unveiled and dissected, the enormity of the deficit problem got a good deal of attention, and the prospect of an additional $2 trillion of debt struck most budget observers as insane. A bill has not even been introduced, and there is already the pungent reek of a dead idea.

It could be the beginning of a trend. There is plenty in the budget that troubles moderate Republicans as well as Democrats. Bush's proposal to cut veterans' benefits, in the midst of a shooting war, will receive bipartisan resistance. His attempt to cut farm subsidies may be good policy, but it is difficult politics.

Meanwhile, his effort to turn Medicaid into a capped block grant is producing bipartisan opposition from governors. As employers reduce the coverage of private health insurance, and as freestanding insurance becomes ever more unaffordable, Medicaid is the only insurance available to more and more Americans--and an ongoing drain on state budgets. …

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