Vilsack shoots self in foot? What about Richardson?

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So how did Bill Richardson do yesterday? You can read two good summaries of yesterday’s forum. The first is Heath Haussamen‘s liveblogging, which is more structured than mine; the second is over at MyDD, by Jonathan Singer.

The big news from yesterday was former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who said this about Medicare and Social Security:

Vilsack talks about balancing the budget of these programs by reindexing the program to prices, not prices and wages.

I’m not an expert on Social Security policy, so we’ll turn to Obsidian Wings for a description of what this means:

While price indexing itself is a bit complicated, however, its effects are simple. It would, essentially, transform Social Security over time from a program in which people who pay more in get more out to a program in which people who earn over a given (low) amount (in the version the President seemed to favor, this was $20,000/year) all get the same benefit. Or, in short: within 80 years or so, Social Security becomes a program in which no one gets more than what the poor get today.

This is a very, very bad deal. It guts Social Security as an element of retirement security, since it makes most workers’ Social Security benefits shrink dramatically, even though the taxes they pay in remain the same.

Scott Lemieux over at TAPPED adds:

In addition to being bad on the merits, what puzzles me about Tom Vilsack’s decision to end his campaign yesterday by endorsing price indexing for Social Security is what makes him think it would work. I’ll admit that I’m no political consultant; I don’t have a strong idea of what would appeal to Middle America (TM) except to say that you probably want to analyze how I express ideas and do the precise opposite. But I do understand at least one thing: running to the right on an extremely popular entitlement program in a Democratic primary is remarkably stupid. Just ask Joe Lieberman.

So how about Richardson? Well, to start out, he likely moves a spot up with the possible implosion of Vilsack’s campaign. As the only other governor in the field, Richardson should see a bump if Vilsack is headed out.

Big Bill didn’t make any major slips during his time on stage, and I think his comments about NAFTA and the need for fair trade agreements — with worker and environmental protections built in — were good for the audience. I would still argue that he needs to come out with some serious policy ideas, especially in the health care arena; advocating a “Massachusetts-style plan” isn’t going to cut it for much longer.

With media outlets more concerned about the Hillary/Obama tiff than anything substantive, Richardson has some time to develop some more solid policy ideas.

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