The Wimp

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 27, 2011

Give credit to political bravery when it is due; when Jim Wright became Speaker of the house of Representatives in 1987, when the 100th Congress took office, he immediately started and maintained a loud and insistent campaign to raise taxes in order to combat the budget deficit. I disagreed with his call then, and do so now, but at least Wright had the courage to fight for what he believed in. Not even the skittishness of other Democrats was enough to get him to back away from demanding new taxes.

Contrast this behavior with that of our present Speaker:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he “made a mistake” when he suggested raising the retirement age to 70 last year.

The Speaker indicated he was premature in suggesting raising the legal age at which retirees are eligible for full Social Security benefits, since he didn’t want to pre-judge a debate over how to fix the entitlement program. He said he wouldn’t rule out raising the retirement age, however.

“I made a mistake when I did that, because I think having the conversation about how big the problem is is the first step,” Boehner said Wednesday evening on CNN. “And once the American people understand how big the problem is, then you can begin to outline an array of possible solutions.”

His comments walk back remarks from late June, when he said the retirement age would eventually need to be raised by five years, from 65 to 70.

You know, it is going to be a whole lot more difficult for the Speaker to make the argument in the future that the retirement age is going to have to be raised, having walked back his comments in so (dare I write it?) cowardly a fashion. If Speaker Boehner was going to retract comments stating that the retirement age was going to have to be raised to 70, then he never should have made those comments in the first place. It would have been better for him to remain quiet, instead of making the statements he made, and being forced to take them back.

Of course, the best scenario of all would have had the Speaker make the comments that he made, stick by them, point out that Social Security is in danger of falling off a cliff, and using his position on the issue–and his position in the American political establishment–to push for some kind of increase in the retirement age; perhaps at least up to age 67. Jim Wright could have given John Boehner a few pointers on how to do so; his constant demands that taxes be raised forced the Reagan White House to eventually come around to Wright’s position. Too bad that Speaker Boehner has made it significantly less likely that the Obama Administration will be forced to come around to his original position on raising the Social Security retirement age. No profile in courage, he.

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