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Editorials Dec. 16

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After the infirm! President Bush has lost interest in Osama bin Laden, but he’s relentless in pursuit of elderly, sick and poor Americans. We’d prefer it the other way around. Bush has lately repeated his intention of privatizing Social Security. That would be a windfall for the Wall Street brokers pushing the idea — large contributors to Bush’s campaign, incidentally — and devastating to the vast majority of Americans who need the guaranteed return that Social Security provides. (Spoofing Bush’s plan for private accounts, the on-line humor magazine The Onion proposed that workers be allowed to wager part of their Social Security contributions on their favorite sports teams.) Bush also promises that there will be no payroll tax to aid Social Security. Apparently, the promise means there will be no raising of the tax ceiling on high-income earners. Now, no Social Security taxes are paid on earnings over $87,900. Raising or eliminating that ceiling should be the first step to assure Social Security’s continued well-being. Not that Social Security is anywhere near the “crisis” that right-wing ideologues proclaim. Social Security will be around as long as the people demand it, and rebuff the privatizers. About the same time he was announcing his determination to undermine Social Security, Bush was picking a new secretary for the Department of Health and Human services, a former governor of Utah known for cutting benefits and raising costs to Medicaid recipients in that state. An Associated Press article on Michael Levitt’s appointment said that he might have to cut “billions of dollars” from “mammoth” programs for the elderly, poor and disabled. One sure way to reduce the cost of Medicare would be to let the government negotiate the price of prescription drugs. Bush has rejected that option, at the demand of the big drug companies. They’re also among his campaign contributors. Back before the November election, we remarked one day that the eccentric state Sen. Jim Holt was perhaps the last member of the Arkansas legislature who should be running for the U.S. Senate. A Capitol insider sprang to Holt’s defense: “He’s no worse than Altes.” The man had a point. While the state stands in grievous need of revenue to lift its schools to a constitutional level, state Sen. Denny Altes of Fort Smith has introduced a package of bills not to raise money but to give it away — aid to the wealthy through further reduction of the capital gains tax; exemptions for farm machinery sold in “border cities” such as Fort Smith; elimination of the state sales tax on food. The last proposal would be a good idea if it were accompanied by some means of replacing the revenue lost to the schools and other essential programs. It is not.

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