The devil was in the missing details Wednesday night when President Bush showcased his Social Security plan and claimed advances on jobs and against terrorism that don’t tell the full story.
Bush explained in detail how, under his proposal, younger workers would be able to divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts “so you can build a nest egg for your own future.”
Nowhere in his State of the Union speech did he give the other side of the equation – that Social Security benefits for those workers would be reduced as a result. He stated “your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security,” without explaining that check would be smaller.
Moreover, he seemed to issue a guaranteed return on investment for people putting some of their retirement money in the market, saying: “Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver.”
Although his plan promises checks and balances to ensure such money isn’t frittered away on risky investments, it does not come with a guarantee of performance exceeding benefits of the current system.
Declaring Social Security will go broke if nothing is done, Bush said that by 2042, “the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.”
In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts Social Security as it is would be able to pay 73 percent of benefits in 2042 and stay solvent for 10 years beyond that.
In a portion of his speech dealing with economic progress in the last four years, Bush trumpeted the addition of 2.3 million jobs “in the last year alone,” as if he’s delivered a succession of job gains.
His number was correct for the year in question, but he left out that there was an overall job loss in those four years. He remains about 300,000 jobs short of closing that jobs deficit.
Even in a policy-packed address like a State of the Union, nuances are lost and Wednesday’s speech was no exception.
Bush called Iraq “free and sovereign,” an arguably premature definition in light of the relentless violence from insurgents and the overwhelming presence of U.S. troops.
He also said Iraq was “a vital front on the war on terror” and Americans “are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we do not have to face them here at home.”
The terrorist link that the United States most worried about when it invaded Iraq – an alleged relationship with the al-Qaida network behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – came to little.
Close to home, Bush credited the No Child Left Behind law with improving school achievement and test scores, but many educators say they are struggling to meet the law’s requirements because of a lack of money and because some requirements are inflexible.
The law demands yearly progress from all groups of students and penalizes many schools that fall short. Bush also talked about increasing Pell grants; the administration has not explained in detail how it will find the money to make that happen.
Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.