In last week's commentary, I laid out a plan for a Democratic victory in the November 2006 national elections.
My premise was that Bush-bashing, which appears to be the official Democratic policy, is the wrong strategy for winning
control over the two Houses of Congress.
Instead, I conveyed my belief that to win in November it will be necessary to attract voters back to the
Democratic Party by restating and reaffirming the Party's commitment to the core policy positions that it has been
identified with since FDR.
Today I'd like to discuss two of those issues at greater length, and provide my views as to where the Party should
stand in implementing the goals of each.
Let's start with the miracle of Social Security, which, through the years, has been a major asset for the
Democratic party. Born in 1935, the Social Security program the average person's pension created for low and
middle income Americans the idea that at age 65 people who had worked during their adult years would be able to live
and retire in reasonable comfort on their Social Security checks along with other kinds of savings and investments.
A major improvement in the Social Security legislation was an amendment effective in 1975 which provided for
annual cost of living adjustments. I was in the Congress at that time and voted for the proposal offered by the then
Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills. It provided an automatic increase in payments to retirees to
compensate for inflation. But for years now, many Americans currently working have been worried that the Social
Security fund would go broke before they were eligible to retire, and they would not be able to collect full benefits in the
Social Security is not a true pension actuarially fully funded. The government pays each beneficiary from current
Social Security taxes collected from both employers and employees. In Social Security's early years, there were 22
workers paying into the Social Security fund for every person retired and receiving Social Security checks. Today there
are only 3.3 workers for each retiree, but it is still possible to pay the full benefits out of current revenues. However, by
the year 2042, it is estimated that current revenues would pay only 80 percent of the cost of benefits at that time.
In a foolish effort to divert the public's attention from the real problems causing the pending deficits, presidential
advisor Karl Rove proposed to the President, who accepted it, the concept of a private account for each employee into
which Social Security funds would be diverted, which in turn could be invested in the stock market, under a supervision
not yet fully determined. The public, much smarter than Rove assumed, rejected the idea, and it was abandoned by the
President. According to a New York Times article of April 20th, Rove "gave up day-to-day control over the
administration's domestic policy to concentrate on the midterm elections…[but] will retain his title as a deputy chief of
staff, as well as his catch-all designation as Mr. Bush's senior adviser."
To deal with the underlying problems of funding Social Security with an aging workforce and fewer people
contributing to the plan, the Democratic Party must address the funding for the future and the guarantee that every
worker can look forward to receiving the benefits he or she is entitled to when they reach retirement. The only
responsible ways to make that happen are to reduce the benefits somewhat, increase the age of retirement (which has
been done in part, but not to the extent needed), increase the rate of tax or include in taxable income so-called
"unearned" income such as stocks, bonds and interest. All of these proposed solutions may not be needed, but some
combination will be required.
It is incumbent upon the Democratic Party to immediately create a commission of the best, most knowledgeable
people, such as Peter Peterson, Felix Rohatyn, John Breaux, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan to examine the problem
and propose a plan for the Democratic Party to agree upon and adopt.
A second major and controversial issue is that of abortion. I support Roe v. Wade. I also oppose the abortion
technique known as partial-birth abortion (allowing the fetus in birth to leave the mother's body up to its neck and then
crushing the head of the fetus within her body, withdrawing the whole fetus from her body). The U.S. Supreme Court
has decided that Congress can prohibit the use of the procedure, except where it is necessary to preserve the life or
health of the mother.
That decision makes sense. Every effort by the Congress to enact the prohibition has failed
because there was no exception for the mother's health. Members of Congress enacted legislation believing they have
the right by law to say the mother's health is never at such a risk as to justify the use of the procedure. If health of the
mother is not defined, it would mean effectively no limitation on the use of the procedure. It would be reasonable and
responsible to limit the exception to the need to protect the mother's childbearing ability, excluding other health issues.
The mother's life is paramount, trumping all other considerations. Where her health is involved requiring a late-term
abortion for psychiatric or other medical conditions, the abortion can be achieved through the other surgical techniques
available and now employed by physicians.