The Magazine

Yes, There's a Bush Domestic Agenda

And Social Security reform is a major part of it.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15 • By FRED BARNES
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It probably will be if the president takes a pass. Kolbe believes the single most important factor in forging a congressional majority for reform is Bush. In a letter to Bush in November, he, Stenholm, Toomey, GOP representative Nick Smith of Michigan, and Democratic representatives Cal Dooley of California and Alan Boyd of Florida said some members of Congress "don't want to accept the urgent need for reform. . . . Only with your leadership on Social Security will we gain the momentum necessary to begin legislative action early next year." Stenholm says a public role by Bush is crucial to attracting Democratic votes. "We can bring a reasonable number of Democrats if the president will lead," he told me. In the House, the best guess is as many as 25 Democrats and nearly all 229 Republicans would back reform. Putting together a Senate majority would be more dicey.

But nobody said it would be easy, only that letting workers invest part of their payroll tax--and actually own the account--and making Social Security solvent would be a historic achievement. Should Bush pull it off, he'd attain a "big goal" of the sort he relishes (as does Rove). But he'll have to seize the moment--and the moment is now. The time for Bush to start a pro-reform campaign is the State of the Union address on January 28. Tanner of Cato has a simple calculation of whether the president is serious. "If we get a sentence [in the speech], then we may be talking 2005," Tanner said. "If we get a paragraph, we should be looking to the fall." That's fall 2003, and none too soon.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.