“Mitt Romney would privatize Social Security and allow Wall Street brokers to gamble away on the stock market, and he said so repeatedly. . . . Privatizing Social Security is an absolute nonstarter for them [seniors]. Romney supports plans that would drastically change or end programs that have delivered for seniors for generations, preserved the safety net for senior for generations, and Mitt Romney would dismantle it. The American people rejected privatization of Social Security when George W. Bush tried to get it done as president, and they will reject Mitt Romney for trying it, too.”
--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Oct. 5, 2011
Those were pretty tough words by the DNC chair as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney arrived in Florida on Wednesday for a campaign swing. We spotted a Huffington Post account of Romney’s visit—in which he berated Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his comments on Social Security—and spotted a line in which Wasserman Schultz told reporters during a conference call that “Romney was in favor of ‘dismantling’ Social Security and letting people invest retirement funds in the stock market.”
When we listened to the recording of the call, it turns out Wasserman Schultz actually said Romney would dismantle the “safety net” for seniors, not necessarily Social Security. But she still accused him of wanting to “privatize Social Security and allow Wall Street brokers to gamble away on the stock market, and he said so repeatedly.” She charged that Romney’s plan was actually the same as then-President George W. Bush’s plan to carve out private retirement accounts in Social Security.
So, is there any truth to her claim?
When we asked the DNC for evidence, they sent us a few clips from 2007—when Romney first ran for president.
In these clips, Romney does express interest in Bush’s stillborn plan to divert some of the payroll tax contributions from Social Security to create private accounts.
In a debate on Oct. 21, 2007, for instance, he spoke of “four major options” for improving Social Security’s finances, listing the private account option as one that “works” better than the other ideas. In a town hall before students on June 6, 2007, he also called Bush’s plan a “good idea.” His remarks, however, did not strike us as overly enthusiastic for the private account option—and he made clear in the debate that he would “protect these programs for seniors.”
But times change, and so can opinions. Despite repeated requests, the DNC was unable to dredge up any Romney quotes on Social Security from the current presidential campaign that would support Wasserman Schultz’s accusations.
That’s because Romney’s position on private accounts has become firmer.
In his 2010 book, “No Apology,” Romney makes it clear that the 2008 stock market turmoil had changed his thinking on the issue. “The 2008 stock market collapse is proof, however, that we can’t always count on positive returns from these investments,” Romney writes. He said individual accounts could still be considered but would need to be phased in over time. Most important, he added, “I would prefer that individual accounts were added to Social Security, not diverted from it, and that they were voluntary.” (See page 160.)
In other words, Romney has concluded that mandatory private accounts won’t work. (As an example of how he talks differently about private accounts, check out the videos below from the last presidential campaign and the current one.)
Indeed, the plan he supports now is strikingly similar to what then-Vice President Al Gore proposed in the 2000 presidential campaign, what Gore dubbed “Social Security Plus.” Gore said the accounts would be voluntary and “not be the product of any reduction or diversion of Social Security revenues.”
DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse dismissed what Romney wrote in his book, calling him “a convictionless, valueless political flip-flopper.” But we’re pretty sure the DNC would be quoting the book chapter and verse if it fit their scary Social Security story line.
The Pinocchio Test
It’s not entirely clear if Romney was a fervent supporter of private accounts four years ago, but his position now is clear. He has adopted a plan that is virtually identical to the position of the Democratic standard-bearer in 2000—and, contrary to Wasserman Schultz’s claims, rejects the idea of diverting payroll taxes to create such accounts.
We take no position about whether this shift stems from political expediency or because, as he wrote, the 2008 stock market swoon made such accounts less attractive. But it is ridiculous for Wasserman Schultz to reach back to 2007 in order to completely misrepresent Romney’s current position.
Curious to know more about Social Security? Read our popular Social Security primer .
Watch Romney on Social Security in 2007…
…and in 2011
DNC further response
UPDATE, 1:30 PM. DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse issued an extended statement in response to this column. One thing we will note: We did contact the Romney campaign before the column ran, and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney’s position on private Social Security accounts is the one he stated in his book.