Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Taking No for an Answer

By Rich Miles

April 26, 2005

"I believe when people figure out that we have a problem and the seniors hear that nothing's going to change, woe to the politician that doesn't come to the table. Woe to the person who tries to block this for partisan reasons."

- George W. Bush, March 11, 2005

If we could take the above remark at face value, it might be possible to say, “Yes, that’s right – for such an important issue to fail in Congress merely because the minority party wants to block it, to make the president look bad – well, that would not be good.”

But what if – just speculating, mind you – what if the folks in Congress who opposed this plan did so because they genuinely believe it’s wrong? What if the Democrats and the increasing number of Republicans who oppose Bush’s private accounts idea were simply acting according to their principles, and doing what they think is right for the country? Would that be OK with Mr. Bush? Is this even something he considers possible – his opponents acting on principle? Or is partisan politics the only imaginable reason why someone in Congress might oppose Bush on any topic? To listen to him tell it on the campaign trail (for that’s what this is – a campaign just like the one from 2000 or 2004), the answer is yes – it has to be partisan politics.

Mr. Bush made the above remark during his whistlestop tour of the South to whip up citizen support for private accounts within the Social Security system. I remind folks who perhaps have been hearing about this discussion in a sort of detailless “background noise” way that to date, there is no actual plan to Bush’s plan. He and his supporters have brought up this partisan-politics barb to head off opposition to legislation they haven’t even proposed yet. As Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) said recently, "What he's put on the table is not a plan. It's a concept -- and Congress doesn't enact concepts."

Mr. Bush got almost everything he asked for from Congress in his first term, due in large part to the events of 9/11, and fears of opposing a “war president”. On the few occasions when he has been defeated or forestalled, notably on a small handful of judicial nominations, rather than withdraw the objectionable nominations and seek a consensus nominee, he simply resubmits them, over and over and over again, in the hopes that he will wear down or outflank the opposition, or that perhaps the Senate will just change the rules so the opposition cannot be registered at all. Despite getting confirmations for over 200 of his appointees, the President just will not let these 7 or so nominations die.

He reminds me of a small child asking for a toy, who when told he can’t have it, asks again and again and again, thinking the answer will somehow be different this time than it was last time. And the same tactic is used by this president every single time he fails to get what he wants from anyone: keep asking the question till the answer changes.

So it would seem to be shaping up for Social Security “reform”: before the plan is here, we’re being told that anyone who opposes it is “bad”. If the legislation, however it may finally look, fails, it can only be because of “partisan politics”, not because it’s a flawed plan, destined not to save Social Security but to dismantle it.

The signs are clear and growing clearer that Mr. Bush may have to take “no” for an answer on Social Security. One wonders just how much political (and actual) capital he will spend re-asking the question, just how many times he will ask the moral equivalent of, “But why not, Daddy? Why can’t I have it? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

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