The reason Bush is unexpectedly content to let Social Security privatization simmer (and continue inflicting damage on him) until 2006 is that he might win it. Yes, I know, Democrats are ecstatic about the great successes we've had in the battle thus far, but it's nowhere near over. What scares me about it, actually, is how closely it resembles the fight over ClintonCare.
Yeah, I'm aware that health care is supposed to be linked to Bush's side of aisle, making it a parable on the dangers of transformative legislation. But Democrats are really the ones tracking it most closely. Clinton, of course, started out way ahead on health care, and indeed retained that lead till quite late in the fight. Democrats too have pulled into an early and commanding lead on Social Security privatization. But what matters is what comes next. In Clinton's case various other priorities and problems (Whitewater, etc) cropped up, weakening the president and, crucially, delaying the final push on health care. That time frame gave the right and its business-based allies time to mobilize, to put their ad campaigns in gear, and begin changing minds. That same coalition supports, indeed, needs, privatization to go through, and with Bush in office and Republicans in the majority, they're going to be willing to spend more money and air harder ads because they're not afraid of reprisals. In order to give them time gear up for the fight, Bush, with his power to set the agenda, is letting Social Security hang out for awhile, even if it looks damaging for Republicans. My guess, such as it is, is that come early 2006, Democrats are going to start seeing the $200 million Bush's backers have promised to spend appearing in their districts. With that sort of money, an enormously targeted campaign, run mostly by corporate-funded 527's, becomes possible, with vulnerable members of the House and Senate experiencing an absolute saturation of attack ads, all of which are understood to click off if and when the pol agrees that personal accounts really are the wave of the future.
That's why I'm not as sanguine as Josh about bringing this to the voters. Given the two plans, I have no doubt which they'd vote for. But given an overwhelming ad campaign in districts unused to such air warfare and unsure about their incumbent, minds can be changed. Not necessarily on the plan, but then, minds don't need to be changed on the plan. They just need to shift, or appear to be shifting, on the incumbent, and s/he'll quickly do what's necessary to make the pressure stop. So in a fair world, I'd be quite stoked to see this one dragging out until 2006. But Republicans aren'[t stupid -- if they're letting it hang around, they've got a reason. My fear is that we don't have a response.