The retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took many people by surprise, but Bill Kristol wasn't one of them. As we noted the other day, the editor of The Weekly Standard predicted last week that O'Connor might retire before Chief Justice William Rehnquist. "There are several tea-leaf-like suggestions that O'Connor may be stepping down," Kristol said, "including the fact that she has apparently arranged to spend much more time in Arizona beginning this fall."
So what else is Kristol prognosticating? Writing this week that Social Security privatization is "going nowhere," Kristol predicts the reforms will not become law "this year or next."
"A sense of dignity and propriety argue against too sudden an abandonment of this effort," Kristol says, "so we'll spend a couple of months reading about good-faith efforts at jump-starting reform. But surely Social Security reform will be allowed to die with dignity by, say, Labor Day -- perhaps little noticed in the excitement of a Supreme Court fight."
If Kristol is right, the House Republicans' pledge to bring Social Security to a vote this fall seems a little pathetic. That's surely for the best: The latest iteration of their reform bill is a doozy. It would take all the surplus tax receipts that Social Security takes in until 2017, when the surplus is projected to run out, and place them into private individual accounts. (Republicans until recently dismissed the surplus as meaningless IOUs; now it's the straw they're grasping at.) The proposal doesn't even address the solvency problems of the program, which was supposed to be the original impetus for reform. In fact, it would make Social Security's finances worse. According to Rep. Jim McCrery, a Republican from Louisiana, a co-author of the proposal, the bill would add $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years. Where the money for private accounts would come from after 2017 is unclear.
But Kristol says that game is over anyway, and that it's time for Bush to move on. Where to? Kristol says the president should "start recapturing the Reaganite high ground of tax cuts and economic growth and opportunity." Kristol argues that Bush should extol the success of his tax cuts, which he says have increased tax receipts and proved that "the supply-side Laffer curve has worked." (The Laffer curve -- the marginal economic theory that won't die -- posits the idea that decreasing tax rates increases tax revenue.)
If Kristol's plan comes together -- if Social Security reform dies quietly during the spectacle of a high-stakes fight over the Supreme Court -- Bush could build his case for tax cuts in the fall, then make it the centerpiece of his 2006 State of the Union address. Kristol can't wait. "Arrivederci, Social Security reform!" he writes. "Buon giorno, tax cuts!"