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Democrats hypocritical on Social Security
Scripps Howard News Service


May 12, 2005

New York - If Democratic hypocrisy on Social Security traded on Wall Street, President Bush could purchase shares and let the dividends finance his personal-retirement-account proposal. Several key congressional Democrats, who extol Social Security for average Americans today, labored feverishly a generation ago to exclude themselves and other government employees from Uncle Sam's biggest project.

- "Social Security is the most successful program in the history of the world, and we're going to protect it," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said April 10 on CBS' "Face the Nation." "People depend on Social Security," Reid declared two days later. "That's the way it has been, and the way it should be, and we're not going to allow that to change."

But when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in April 1983 to bring senators and representatives into Social Security, Harry Reid reacted like Harry Houdini. Reid tried to help lawmakers escape history's "most successful program." H.R. 3589, which then-Rep. Reid introduced on July 18, 1983, aimed "To repeal the recently enacted provisions providing for coverage of Federal employees under ... the Social Security Act."

Reid attempted to throw off the rusted chains of Social Security. Having failed, he now keeps other Americans shackled.

- Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., last Jan. 28 toasted Social Security as "a lifeline to a decent life." But on March 23, 1983, he encountered a measure by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "My amendment excludes Federal employees entirely from the Social Security system," Stevens bluntly told his colleagues. While the proposal failed, 12-86, Sarbanes voted for it.

- Social Security "keeps our fathers and mothers from those darkening shadows of approaching night," Montana's Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee's top Democrat, said March 4. New York Rep. Charles Rangel, the House Ways and Means Committee's ranking Democrat, on May 3 called Social Security "a cushion to have your dignity, to have your pride, to be able not to have to depend on your children and grandchildren." Here, again, these two latter-day Social Security stalwarts previously gave the system the cold shoulder.

The House considered language by then-Rep. Joseph Fisher, D-Va., on Oct. 26, 1977. "The purpose of my amendment is to strike the provisions requiring all Government employees and employees of nonprofit organizations to be covered by Social Security," Fisher explained, adding: "Universal coverage is really back-door general revenue financing for Social Security."

Then-Rep. Baucus applauded. "There is much concern and confusion among my constituents concerning universal coverage," he said on the House floor. "I can understand the fears of workers who would be affected," he continued. "We must assure these workers that we are not using them to simply bail out the Social Security fund."

Fisher's amendment passed, 386-38, and congressmen and other government employees sidestepped Social Security for another seven years. Joining Baucus among the "ayes" were current Democratic Sens. (then House members) Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Beyond Rangel, today's House Democrats who voted "aye" include Washington state's Norman Dicks, Michigan's John Dingell, Massachusetts' Edward Markey, California's George Miller and Henry Waxman, Pennsylvania's John Murtha, Minnesota's James Oberstar and Missouri's Ike Skelton.

"So what?" some might wonder. These votes are old news. But they are no older than a statement that Democrats invoke in which then-House candidate George W. Bush predicted Social Security would "go bust in 10 years unless there are some changes."

Bush "said in 1978 that Social Security would go bust in 1988 unless the system was (sic) privatized," said Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate's very own snapping turtle, on "Face the Nation" March 6. "He was wrong then."

Changes, indeed, came when the Alan Greenspan Commission "saved" Social Security in 1983, right before it faced serious cash problems, exactly as Bush warned. If President Bush's accurate 27-year-old remarks are fair game, so should be Democrats' self-interested votes from that era.

Back then, congressional Democrats considered Social Security perfect for their constituents, but beneath them and their bureaucratic pals.

Despite their valiant efforts, however, they have been stuck inside of Uncle Sam's pension paradise since 1984. This may explain their current mantra on Social Security: "No one here gets out alive!"


Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va.
E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)

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