Feb. 8, 2006 - If you read enough numbers, you never know what you'll find. Take President Bush and private Social Security accounts.
Last year, even though Bush talked endlessly about the supposed joys of private accounts, he never proposed a specific plan to Congress and never put privatization costs in the budget. But this year, with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal, which he sent to Congress on Monday.
His plan would let people set up private accounts starting in 2010 and would divert more than $700 billion of Social Security tax revenues to pay for them over the first seven years.
If this comes as a surprise to you, have no fear. You're not alone. Bush didn't pitch private Social Security accounts in his State of the Union Message last week.
First, he drew a mocking standing ovation from Democrats by saying that "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security," even though, as I said, he'd never submitted specific legislation.
Then he seemed to be kicking the Social Security problem a few years down the road in typical Washington fashion when he asked Congress "to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby-boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," adding that the commission would be bipartisan "and offer bipartisan solutions."
But anyone who thought that Bush would wait for bipartisanship to deal with Social Security was wrong. Instead, he stuck his own privatization proposals into his proposed budget.
"The Democrats were laughing all the way to the funeral of Social Security modernization," White House spokesman Trent Duffy told me in an interview Tuesday, but "the president still cares deeply about this." Duffy asserted that Bush would have been remiss not to include in the budget the cost of something that he feels so strongly about, and he seemed surprised at my surprise that Social Security privatization had been written into the budget without any advance fanfare.