Peter Wehner, a former aide to President George W. Bush announced he was joining the Romney campaign as a senior adviser today in an email obtained by BuzzFeed. Complicating Wehner’s new role could be his past critique of entitlement reform proposals from Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan.
In 2005 when the Bush Administration attempted to tackle reforming social security, Ryan and former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu proposed a social security privatization plan known as Ryan-Sununu that Ryan described as the “most humane way to save Social Security.” The plan would allow workers to invest into private accounts about half of their payroll taxes. The plan claimed it would have no cuts in benefits and no tax increases.
The White House, at the urging of Karl Rove, for whom Wehner worked as an aide, decided to keep its distance from Ryan’s plan and go with a proposal they thought was more politically viable with smaller private accounts.
In a leaked White House memo taking issues with Ryan’s plan, Wehner blasted the plan as irresponsible for not providing a significant enough overhaul to fix the program, but merely provided “personal retirement accounts” alone.
You may know that there is a small number of conservatives who prefer to push only for investment accounts and make no effort to adjust benefits — therefore making no effort to address this fundamental structural problem. In my judgment, that’s a bad idea. We simply cannot solve the Social Security problem with Personal Retirement Accounts alone. If the goal is permanent solvency and sustainability — as we believe it should be —then Personal Retirements Accounts, for all their virtues, are insufficient to that task. And playing “kick the can” is simply not the credo of this President. He wants to do what needs to be done for genuine repair of Social Security.
If we duck our duty, it can have serious short-term economic consequences. Here’s why. If we borrow $1-2 trillion to cover transition costs for personal savings accounts and make no changes to wage indexing, we will have borrowed trillions and will still confront more than $10 trillion in unfunded liabilities. This could easily cause an economic chain-reaction: the markets go south, interest rates go up, and the economy stalls out. To ignore the structural fiscal issues — to wholly ignore the matter of the current system’s benefit formula — would be irresponsible.
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