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As McCain Surrogate, Graham Calls His Own Social Security Idea "Dumb"

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Surrogacy on behalf of a presidential candidate can, on occasion, force a politician to deride his own past positions. Such was the case Sunday morning when McCain super-surrogate Lindsay Graham found himself trying to cover up the Arizona Senator's admission that he will consider raising the payroll tax as a way of reforming Social Security.

"Senator McCain believes you cannot tax your way into Social Security solvency," said Graham. "If you want to deal with Social Security, you've got to deal with all the moving parts. That is whether or not you allow young people to invest or have an account in their own name. Do you adjust the age? Do you adjust, reschedule the benefits based on upper-income people? John is not going to tax our way into solvency because it will ruin the American economy... But to raise taxes to save Social Security from bankruptcy won't happen. It's a dumb idea."

How dumb an idea could raising taxes be? After all, back during the heyday of the Social Security privatization debate in 2005, it was Graham who was pushing the concept of a Social Security "donut hole" tax, in which the system would be buoyed by revenue raised from taxing the first, say, $90,000 of income and the later $300,000 plus. At the time, the South Carolina Republican, who advocated taking a portion of that revenue to create voluntary personal retirement accounts, was winning plaudits from some reform minded Republicans and scorn from the conservative base. As George Will put it aptly in a March 11, 2005, column in the Washington Post:

"Now [Graham] has an idea that makes some Republicans throw up: Raise the current $90,000 limit on income subject to Social Security taxes. Republicans who throw up should grow up. Intelligent people can differ about whether Graham's suggestion is economically unwise or politically imprudent. However, it hardly blurs the distinction between conservatism and Bolshevism. The Social Security tax rate has been increased 20 times in 70 years, and the cap on income subject to the tax is indexed to average wages and adjusted annually."

Now, however, Graham seems firmly entrenched in what Will would describe as the raising-taxes-makes-me-throw-up camp. McCain, on the other hand, is tougher to define. Last Sunday he told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that when it came to Social Security: "There is nothing I would take off the table," including a payroll tax hike. Days later he told a crowd in Colorado: "I want to look you in the eye. I will not raise your taxes nor support a tax increase. I will not do it." All of which prompted an columnist in the Wall Street Journal to wonder out loud, in the column's title no less, "Is John McCain Stupid?"