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Yesterday’s post discussed IL-10 U.S. House Candidate, Bob Dold’s botched campaign to run on a Social Security privatization plan. Dold got himself caught in the middle of the Tea Parties love/hate relationship with Social Security. Tea party leaders love to say they hate it, but their followers hate the idea of giving it up for themselves. His solution was to come out strong for the primary and back off quickly when questioned about the plan.
Today, I’ll take a look at Mark Kirk’s long history of running on Social Security privatization without actually coming out and saying so.
When George W. Bush’s began laying the groundwork for a Social Security privatization plan, Mark Kirk remained silent. The only source for his position was a 1998 Republican Main Street Partnership Issue paper that he signed onto. The paper adopted the idea that Social Security was in crisis and supported individual savings accounts.
In December 2004, I wrote to my congressman asking him about his position on Social Security. He responded:
Dear Ms. Gill:
Thank you for contacting me regarding Social Security reform. I appreciate your orrespondence on this crucial issue.
Social Security is the most important federal senior program providing financial backing to millions of Americans who worked hard for their retirement. Our nation’s seniors built their retirement security on a foundation of benefits earned throughout their career. Future retirees deserve the same confidence in a solvent Social Security system.
President Bush indicated in his campaign that strengthening Social Security will top his second term agenda. In the coming months, I will carefully review the details of his proposals. As I review any proposed Social Security reforms, I will apply three key principles:
1. Current retirees must receive their full entitled benefits,
2. Americans about to retire will also receive full benefits without a change in the retirement age, and
3. Any reforms must strengthen the financial foundation of Social Security.
If a proposal does not fulfill the promise of these principles, I will not support it. Over the coming months, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to develop a sustainable system that keeps Social Security in tact for retirees and assures financial stability for younger workers.
Thank you for contacting me on this important issue. Please visit my website at www.house.gov.kirk or contact me again whenever issues of importance to you come before the Congress.
~Mark Steven Kirk
Member of Congress
Kirk never came out and said he’d vote for a privatization scheme, but he praised Bush’s as working to “strengthen” Social Security and used the same word to describe his third principle of support for Social Security changes. At the time, I noted that Kirk, as many others claiming to seek to strengthen the system while remaining politic, chose to sacrifice younger Americans so older Americans, no matter of need, can keep their current benefit levels. This is also a current mantra of the so-called Social Security reformers. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, this is a circular argument:
And having invented a crisis, what do Social Security’s attackers want to do? They don’t propose cutting benefits to current retirees; invariably the plan is, instead, to cut benefits many years in the future. So think about it this way: In order to avoid the possibility of future benefit cuts, we must cut future benefits. O.K.
It’s plain that Social Security “reformers” want to lose the plan, but not the senior vote. It’s perhaps a safer, but short-lived strategy.
When Bush stopped talking about Social Security in mid-late 2005, so did Mark Kirk.
Kirk made a couple of votes as a U.S. Congressman from which one could glean his position on Social Security. In 2004, Kirk voted with his party and against a Democratic proposal to prevent dipping into the Social Security Trust Fund to support FSA accounts. Kirk softened his position in preparation for the tough 2008 race against Dan Seals by voting against the republican substitute budget which sought to freeze domestic spending to support extending the Bush tax cuts. Since the republican proposal was not close to passage, Kirk’s vote would not have mattered and it was widely viewed in the district as a political vote to satisfy his moderate district.
As a U.S. Senate Candidate, Kirk has been asked about his current position on Social Security. He has nothing up on his campaign website about it, but he has answered editorial board candidate questionnaires. The Chicago Tribune asked about raising payroll taxes and retirement age, and changes to the benefit formula. They didn’t ask about privatization, but asked candidates to be specific. Kirk’s response was not specific. His short 1 paragraph answer beings with a long run-on about the importance of the program. The only specifics in Kirk’s answer were the same 3 principles he wrote in his response to me nearly 5 years before.
The Chicago Sun-Times didn’t ask the Social Security question, but asked about the candidates’ top 5 priorities. Social Security was not among Kirk’s stated priorities, but lowering taxes and cutting government programs were leaving the question open.
It’s hard to know Kirk’s position on Social Security privatization. However, his past behavior shows that when his vote is needed by his party, he gives it and when the far right demands something he hates to turn them down.
This post can also be found at my Illinois Tenth Congressional District Blog.