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By Adriel Bettelheim August 26, 2008

McCain not committed to 'privatization'

In a much-anticipated address at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Rodham Clinton praised former rival Barack Obama and launched a strong attack against Republican nominee John McCain, tying him to President George W. Bush.

"We don't need four more years of the last eight years," Clinton said, launching into a litany of attacks.

One line jumped out at us: "John McCain wants to privatize Social Security." "Privatizing social security" is how Democrats refer to George W. Bush's plan to allow workers to divert a portion of the program's payroll taxes to personal investment accounts. (Republicans prefer the nomenclature of " personal accounts .")

Though McCain has repeatedly warned that the Social Security system is going broke and needs to be fixed to meet the needs of future generations, he is not proposing anything as ambitious — or as concrete — as what Bush attempted in 2005.

At the time, Bush tried to make the case that his plan would keep the system solvent as tens of millions of baby boomers retire. The thinking was that private accounts would give younger workers the ability to manage their retirement nest eggs without government interference. Though Bush did a good job convincing the public that the program was in trouble, he couldn't sell them on his solution. Call it privatization or personal accounts, the plan failed to garner support.

McCain, mindful of the passions Social Security debates tend to arouse, is vague about his plans for the program. His Web site says he wants to supplement the current system with personal accounts but that the accounts will not be a substitute for addressing overall solvency. It also notes McCain wants to work with Democrats on a Social Security plan but is prepared to go it alone if they don't want to play.

Experts say McCain appears to back allowing workers to invest a portion of their paychecks in new tax-advantaged investments without tapping money currently dedicated to Social Security.

"That's very different from taking money out of Social Security and making a personal account part of today's benefit structure," said David C. John, a senior research fellow and Social Security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in an interview earlier this year . "Politically, (the charge) is understandable, but factually, what McCain is proposing is different."

In July, McCain was asked more specifically about Social Security. "I cannot tell you what I would do, except to put everything on the table," he told reporters. A few weeks later, he was asked at an event about new taxes to shore up Social Security. "There is nothing that's off the table. I have my positions, and I'll articulate them. But nothing's off the table," McCain said. "I don't want tax increases. But that doesn't mean that anything is off the table."

That sounds to us to fall considerably short of Clinton's statement that McCain "wants to privatize Social Security." She stretches things when she equates his currently vague designs for the program with Bush's failed policy proposal, so we judge her statement to be Barely True.



Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Time, Prepared Remarks for Hillary Clinton at Convention , Aug. 26, 2008

McCain campaign Web site, "On The Issues, McCain Tax Cut Plan," (read down for Reforming Entitlement Programs)

Wall Street Journal, "McCain's Economy Platform: Big Tax Cuts, With Caveats" by Bob Davis, March 3, 2008

Wall Street Journal, "Campaign '08: McCain Interview: 'I'm Always for Less Regulation,'" by Bob Davis, March 3, 2008

CQ Weekly, "No Market for Next New Deal," April 4, 2005

Heritage Foundation, "Raising the Social Security Payroll Tax Cap Does Not Fix Social Security," by David C. John, Feb. 16, 2005

Interview with David C. John, Heritage Foundation, May 19, 2008

The Associated Press, McCain backs off his no-new-tax pledge , July 29, 2008

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McCain not committed to 'privatization'

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