Alan Simpson, co-chair of the Deficit Reduction Commission, once again has trouble with his mouth. The report he and co-chair Erskine Bowles issued in December recommended, in the words of South Florida NPR station WXEL, "Social Security benefit cuts via a higher retirement age, lower annual cost-of-living adjustments and a change in the way benefits are calculated." And, WXEL quoted Simpson in a just-released interview, as declaring, "We're not talking about privatization. These jerks that keep dragging that up are lying. We never suggested that."
But just a few weeks ago, he and co-chair Erskine Bowles let loose their deficit reduction report. Its "Recommendation 5.10" urged: "A serious bi-partisan conversation...regarding incentives to generate personal retirement savings that supplement Social Security...Americans need a fiscally responsible personal retirement savings system..."
Coming on the heels of their several proposed Social Security benefit reductions, those accounts would not simply "supplement" Social Security but would supplant significant parts of it. That in essence was George W. Bush's failed plan to divert a portion of Social Security revenue into private accounts. When "privatization" proved an unpopular term, President Bush tried, unsuccessfully, to disown it.
Former Senator Simpson is also trying to shuck it off. But, shucks, if it sounds so much like Bush's privatization gambit and would have essentially the same effects -- shrinking Social Security while expanding higher-cost, lower-reliability private plans, it makes sense to call that "privatization." Translated to Simpson-talk: "If it looks like a bum steer on Social Security, sounds like a bum steer, struts and staggers like a bum steer, we should just call it a bum steer."