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DeSantis May Have an Achilles Heel: Social Security

As we wrote yesterday, it has often happened that front runners for president get put under a giant microscope and get smacked down long before the primaries. Just ask former presidents Howard Dean, Scott Walker, and Mario Cuomo, among others. OK, you can't ask Cuomo because he is dead, but son Andrew is still around—somewhere.

We don't know if Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will suffer this fate, but we do know that a whole bunch of reporters are on the case. Late yesterday afternoon, CNN put up a story about how DeSantis supported privatizing Social Security and Medicare when he was in Congress. This may be the first story on this, but we absolutely guarantee you it will not be the last (if need be, we can just run it again ourselves, but we don't think that will be necessary).

As you may recall, after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, largely as a result of popular support for his forceful statements and actions after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America, the first thing he tried to do was privatize Social Security. That'll show those damn terrorists! The various privatization plans floating around Congress differ a bit, but most come down to abolishing Social Security as a government program. Instead, people would be required to open a new special kind of account with a private bank. A certain percentage of their wages and salary would go into this account instead of into the Social Security Trust Fund. This would be a personal account and you could invest the money as you see fit, subject to some (as yet unspecified) rules. When you hit retirement age, you could withdraw the money at some (as yet unspecified) rate. There would be no cross subsidies, as in the current system. If you decided to put everything into bitcoins (assuming that was allowed) and at retirement you had 50 bitcoins and each was worth 75¢, well, time to Google "Food pantry near me." Bush's plan was almost instantly shot down and he quickly moved on.

As soon as DeSantis announces his run, probably in May or June, Donald Trump, who has defended Social Security, is going to club DeSantis over the head with the governor's former support for privatizing Social Security. Congressman DeSantis is on record supporting that so he won't be able to wriggle out of it, certainly not if Trump repeats it every day.

DeSantis was also a supporter of Paul Ryan's plan to replace Medicare with "Ryancare." Very briefly, this would segment the country into a low-risk pool (healthy people) and a high-risk pool (sick people). The healthy people (about 80% of the population) would be required to buy private insurance (i.e., Obamacare). Since they are healthy, premiums could be low and they would all vote Republican in gratitude. The high-risk pool would be funded by an annual appropriation by Congress, thus letting Congress control how much government money was spent on health care. This would get costs down. It would also have the small side effect that if the money ran out in, say, August, any person in the pool who went to a doctor in September would be told: "Sorry, the money for this year is all gone. Try to stay alive until January 1 or whenever Congress gets around to appropriating some more money." These people would not be happy campers, but Ryan figured that getting 80% of the vote would be fine. He was not greedy.

Anyway, this story is going to build over time and DeSantis is going to be put in a box. He could try to weasel out of his previous support for killing Social Security and Medicare but that won't work as Trump will hammer away at DeSantis on this. Or DeSantis could say: "I changed my mind." That would be a bigger flip-flop than all the flip-flops on Florida beaches combined. This is the kind of issue that could bring DeSantis down. If Trump is brought down by Mike Pence's testimony (see above), that could lead to some other person getting the GOP nomination. Pence is probably aware of this. (V)

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