When Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Representatives Harold Ford (D-Tn.), Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), and Phil English (R-Pa.) are all on the same bill in this humorless Congress where bipartisanship is rare, we should probably see what’s drawing them together.
What’s more is that today a conservative voice in the New York Times and a progresive voice in the Washington Post write articles in the same groove that suggest to President Bush that as his Social Security privatization plan crashes and burns that he consider embracing a plan that would help seed asset-building among those born without assets.
These members of Congress have supported the ASPIRE Act (conceived by my colleague Ray Boshara) to help establish accounts for kids at birth and an effort to try and seed an “asset mentality” among those who are born with little or no financial assets.
Others have been at this too, including former Senator Bob Kerrey, whose KidSave plan also tried to aggressively spread the nuggets of financial assets among America’s newest citizens.
David Brooks has a terrific piece today in the New York Times on this — proposing to President Bush that he get to work sharing the wealth in a way that might make a structural change in the growing distance between haves and have-nots.
President Bush said he was open to other people’s ideas on how to fix Social Security, so I hope he’ll listen to mine.
My idea starts with a blunt political observation. Personal accounts — as they are currently envisioned – are going to be hard to pass. Every important Democrat opposes them. Jim McCrery, the Republican who is chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee, says the president’s plan will have to fundamentally change if it is to have a chance.
So my idea is this: If the president’s current version of personal accounts stalls, he should consider another version – one that is more likely to win broad support, and that achieves all the goals of an “ownership society.”
The personal accounts I’m thinking of would be inspired by a proposal called KidSave, which was floating around in the late 1990’s. KidSave was championed by Bob Kerrey when he was a Democratic senator from Nebraska, but in its different iterations it attracted support from a range of Democrats (Lieberman, Moynihan and Breaux) and Republicans (Gregg, Grassley and Santorum).
Ray Boshara had a similarly-targeted piece in the Washington Post today. Boshara writes:
Perhaps a good way to begin debate on President Bush’s bold and commendable ideas for an “ownership society” would be to ask, “Who owns America?” After all, if ownership policies further concentrate the ownership of assets for those who already own a lot, while doing little for those who own nothing, what’s the point?
He also offers:
While we shouldn’t penalize those who’ve done well — in fact, we should continue to reward hard work, creativity and initiative — there’s little for our nation to gain by further concentrating wealth. And there is an enormous amount to be gained by broadening it. Wealth begets wealth; the real challenge is to have it in the first place.
In fact, the forthcoming ASPIRE Act would do exactly that. And the broad, surprisingly bipartisan sponsorship of that bill. . .(see above). . .suggests that a progressive ownership agenda might be one of the few things our deeply divided Congress can agree on in coming years. Britain is rolling out its bold, and similar, “Child Trust Fund” this year; the United States would be wise to do the same.
Naturally, any policies that build wealth for millions of Americans could cost billions of dollars. But it would be money well spent. The Homestead Act and the GI Bill, both rightly cited by the president at his inauguration as great ownership society programs, generated huge financial returns and remain the foundation of our middle class. Fully one-quarter of adults today can trace their legacy of asset ownership to the Homestead Act, and the GI Bill has returned $7 to the nation for every $1 invested.
Both are worth looking at.
And both are better ideas than privatizing Social Security.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. For more information on the Aspire Act, this is a good resource. SCC