Few — if any — Republican candidates have generated more excitement among conservatives this year than Marco Rubio. Yet the Miami Herald reports that Rubio has abandoned his prior support for giving younger workers the option of investing a portion of their payroll taxes in personal accounts.
According to Rubio’s campaign:
“He studied the issue at length and reached the conclusion that the numbers don’t make it a viable solution to preserve Social Security and that the focus should be on other areas involving younger workers who are decades away from retirement” said Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos. “This conclusion is based on Marco’s extensive study of the fiscal impact and his belief that Social Security must be preserved for future generations. When Marco evaluates policies, he studies important elements like the fiscal impact, whereas Charlie Crist looks at the poll numbers and takes positions based on the votes he’s trying to win on a given day.”
Florida has a large senior citizen vote, so it’s understandable politically why Rubio wouldn’t want to give his opponents anything to run on when it looks like he’s coasting to victory. But Rubio’s fear of talking about serious Social Security reform is indicative of a larger problem, which I alluded to in my post about the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”
If an election in which there is a groundswell of anger against government spending and debt isn’t a good time to take a stand on entitlements, when is a good time? Should Republicans make the massive gains this November that people are now predicting, they won’t try to do anything about entitlements, because then the argument will be that they need to take back the White House first, and can’t give Obama an opportunity to paint them as extremists in the run up to 2012. Should a Republican win the presidency in 2012 with large majorities in the House and Senate, then Republicans will be focused on maintaining power, as they were during the Bush years.
The point is, there will always be a political argument for not tackling entitlements. Yet if there is any hope of doing something to address them, more politicians are going to have to be comfortable taking serious stands on the issue, even at a political risk, even during election season. Rep. Paul Ryan won his Wisconsin district (which went for Obama) with 64 percent of the vote in 2008, despite unvieling a very detailed and comprehensive entitlement reform proposal. So it is possible to take a bold stand on entitlements and still thrive politically. But it’s discouraging when Rubio, who has been treated as a conservative rock star, cowers on the issue.