Social Security

Rick Perry's Underwhelming Radicalism

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Does Texas Governor and GOP presidential contender Rick Perry want to dismantle the federal entitlement system? The Daily Beast's Andrew Romano reports on the governor's vision for a scaled back, state-driven entitlement system:

Perry believes, for example, that the national Social Security system, which he calls a "failure" that "we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now," should be scrapped and that each state should be allowed to create, or not create, its own pension system. "I would suggest a legitimate conversation about let[ting] the states keep their money and implement the programs," he says.

Perry also includes Medicare in his list of programs "the states could substantially better operate," suggesting that each governor should be "given the freedom from the federal government to come up with his own innovative ways [of] working with his legislature to deliver his own health-care innovations to his citizens."

And Perry thinks TARP was a total mistake—along with all subsequent efforts to backstop or stimulate the economy. Instead, he prefers an entirely laissez-faire approach to job-destroying financial crises. "I think you allow the market to work its way through it," he says. "I don't understand why the TARP bill exists. Let the processes find their way."

No Social Security. No federal health-care program for seniors. And no Beltway involvement—at all—during a crash or recession. 

So that's what Rick Perry reportedly says. But would he follow through on this vision if given the chance? It's obviously not possible to know in advance what choices he'd make if elected president. But Perry has come out in favor of fundamental changes in entitlements before, as governor. And in that case, his talk was far tougher than his walk.

Last year, as states came to grips with the Medicaid expansion required under the health care overhaul, Perry was one of the most vocal proponents of a radical response: pulling states out of Medicaid entirely. He talked up the notion for a long time, saying that opting out was a "good idea" and all but overtly threatening to stop Texas's participation in the system.

But in the end, he didn't make any real effort to remove his state from the program. Instead, he agreed to cuts in the state's Medicaid provider reimbursements and signed a budget that left $4.8 billion in expected Medicaid expenses unfunded. That's not what the program's defenders would've liked—but it's not exactly the more radical move he implicitly threatened either. 

How long will it take for Perry to back down from his previous comments about Social Security and Medicare? No need to guess. It's already starting to happen: As of today, Perry is carefully shaving the rough edges off his criticism of Social Security.