The decision by GOP leadership to largely punt on the question of entitlement reform in their 21-page outline for governance raises an interesting electoral question. If Republicans aren't explicitly calling for Social Security's privatization, can the Democrats realistically campaign as if they are?
The subject was brought up on a conference call with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and, not surprisingly, Pfeiffer was quick to answer.
"It is in [Rep.] Paul Ryan's plan," he said. "The leadership in Congress, who is seeking to return [to] the majority, is the same leadership who pushed this before. And if the Republicans want to come out and take that off the table, we are certainly open to that. But they have pointedly refused to do that."
Pfeiffer's argument isn't without some basis. The onus does rest on Republicans to detail their plans for entitlement reform. And so long as they punt on the matter, the evidence the voting public should go on is what remains out there -- not only Ryan's roadmap but the various statements from Republican candidates supporting privatization if not Social Security's elimination altogether.
But in terms of a strict political calculus, Pfeiffer ignored a far more potent charge. Even though GOP leadership left out substantive reforms to Social Security in their 'Pledge', some of the top voices in the party assume it as a fait accompli that there would be a push for privatization should Republicans regain congressional power.
As the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol said on "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend:
There are not gonna be earmarks next year. They can't get all their caucus to agree to it now, but if Republicans take the House, there will be such sentiment of the Tea Party nation that they will not, in my view, do earmarks. They will really cut discretionary spending. Paul Ryan will lay down the budget on April 1st, 2011, as chairman of the Budget Committee, that will address entitlements. They're being reasonable; they're being bold in a reasonable way.