Jeb Bush, suffering some political hits lately, returned to what he does best, namely advocating for grown-up reform policy. His latest plan addresses Social Security and Medicare, making him the second candidate, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to do so.
On Medicare, Bush takes a page from the policy guidebook Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is best-known for. Bush, like Ryan, advocates a premium support plan (i.e., a defined-contribution plan). He also supports health spending accounts (“Today, seniors may be responsible for co-pays, deductibles and premiums, which can be difficult to afford on a fixed income. Once an individual enrolls in Medicare, he or she cannot save money in a tax-free health savings account, or ‘HSA.’ I will allow seniors to keep their HSAs to help cover out-of-pocket health care spending and have more financial security.”) He also adopts stricter means testing.
On Social Security, he would open up private savings options (e.g., small-business 401(K)s) and reduce benefits for early retirees. He also proposes slowing the growth of costs “using many of the ideas from the Simpson-Bowles Commission.” He says,”No senior who has worked for more than 30 years should live in poverty, so I will increase the minimum social security benefit. And we can change Social Security so that higher-income workers, who can afford to save for retirement on their own during their careers, get a smaller check when they retire.” Most critically, he would increase the retirement age for full benefits by one month every year beginning in 2022.
His tip of the hat to Simpson-Bowles was not accidental. NBC News reports, “Jeb Bush picked up the endorsement of former Republican senator Alan Simpson on Tuesday shortly after rolling out an entitlement reform plan, NBC News has learned exclusively.”
His announcement fulfills the promise he made, when he rolled out his tax plan, to present an entitlement plan that would make up for lost revenue. While he has not attached a dollar figure to the proposals, just raising the retirement age results in huge savings. (Savings from similar ideas would reduce the debt by trillions of dollars.)
Jeb’s reliance on Ryan’s work on retirement reform highlights how central Ryan is to the GOP’s reform agenda. Candidates apparently now see the advantage in tying themselves to the incoming speaker, hoping to signal maturity and dedication to conservative policy.
As for Jeb, his entitlement initiative allows him to argue in the debate Wednesday night that other candidates who are offering pie-in-the-sky tax cuts are being unrealistic and trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. Yes, Bush is a conservative and he is interested in big reforms. Having rolled out a series of major policy initiatives, however, Bush now has to find a way to sell them — and himself — in a compelling fashion.
Whether he will go after the two front-runners or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday remains to be seen. But surely he can make the case that in seven years, the Obama administration continually ducked the hard calls. And Hillary Clinton? Well, she’s not about to offer something as fiscally responsible as Jeb’s plan.