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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Decade-Old Democratic Claim

For years, Democrats have been twisting Republicans’ positions to claim they want to “privatize” Social Security and risk your retirement on the stock market. The latest distortion: Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed Jeb Bush supported his brother’s plan that would put “Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.”

No one’s retirement savings would have ever been wiped out by George W. Bush’s failed 2005 plan, which called for allowing younger workers to voluntarily invest only a portion of their Social Security taxes in private mutual fund accounts. And Jeb Bush has said he doesn’t want to pursue such a plan now. Instead, he has proposed gradually raising the retirement age and lifting the cap on taxable income.

Wasserman Schultz made her remarks at the DNC’s summer meeting in Minneapolis, claiming broadly that while Democrats wanted to preserve the “promise” of Social Security and Medicare for “generations to come,” Republicans were “looking for any excuse they can to break that promise.” (See the 51-minute mark of the video.) She then got into specifics, saying this about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican candidate for president:

Wasserman Schultz, Aug. 28: Jeb Bush supported his brother’s plan to partially privatize Social Security and phase out Medicare, putting Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.

The “phase out” line about Medicare also twists Bush’s words on that program, but we’ll start with the Social Security claim.

Bush on Social Security

Bush did offer support for his brother’s sales pitch of the Social Security plan back in 2005, appearing on stage with him in Florida, along with their mother, according to an Associated Press account. Much more recently — in June — Bush said that his brother “tried” to do something about Social Security and “got totally wiped out.” He added: “The next president’s going to have to try again.”

A liberal PAC called American Bridge 21st Century made much of that quote, but Bush didn’t say that the next president would have to try again with the same plan. In August, when he was asked specifically at the Iowa State Fair about his brother’s private account plan, he said he didn’t support it.

“It would have made sense back then; now we’re way beyond that,” he said. “What we need to do is to reform Social Security to preserve it and protect it for those that already have it and to reform it in the logical ways where there’s broad bipartisan consensus, which is to, over an extended period of time, raise the retirement age and raise the income cap limit. You can solve Social Security that way.”

So, while he supported George W. Bush’s plan in the past, he’s not calling for private Social Security accounts now.

Wasserman Schultz’s claim continues a years-long effort by Democrats to link Republicans to the idea of “privatizing” Social Security. President Obama has done it — at least twice — as have Democratic politicians in many congressional races.

And in doing so, Democrats often distort the facts of the 2005 plan, which was so unpopular it was never even introduced as actual legislation. Wasserman Schultz said the plan would put “Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.” But no one would have been forced into private accounts, and even those who did want to invest in them would have been limited in how much they could invest and where.

As we explained in 2010, George W. Bush’s plan, proposed in February 2005, would have given workers under 55 the option of investing some of their payroll taxes in private mutual fund accounts approved by the government. The plan would have allowed less than one-third of a worker’s taxes to be invested.

It’s true that the amount invested could go up and down, but no one would have been “at risk of losing their retirement savings.” And no one would have been forced to invest in government-approved mutual funds, since it would have been voluntary.

Bush on Medicare

Wasserman Schultz also distorts Bush’s position on Medicare, taking his words out of context to claim he wants to “phase out” the health insurance program for seniors. Bush said he wanted to “phase out” the current program and “move to a new system” for younger workers, otherwise, “they’re not going to have anything.”

Here’s the full quote from Bush:

Bush, July 22: I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.

He was talking about finding a way to strengthen the program for future retirees — not get rid of Medicare and do nothing else. He has not explained what system he thinks should replace Medicare.

It’s the same type of misleading “end Medicare” claims we’ve also seen from Democrats for the past several years.

— Lori Robertson