Today's Papers

S.S.  S.O.S.  B.S.

Everybody leads with the State of the Union, during which President Bush offered a few details on his plan for partially privatizing Social Security: Starting in 2009, most workers 55 or younger should be able to put up to a third of their payroll tax into government-controlled market accounts. Those older than 55 wouldn’t see any changes. People who opt into the proposed plan would have their defined benefits trimmed in some still-undefined way.

The president also seemed to acknowledge—as a White House official said in a background briefing earlier in the day—that partial privatization won’t do anything to shore up Social Security, so some of sort additional cuts will be needed. Bush said he’s open to suggestions—except for raising taxes in any way. (He also said, inaccurately, that Social Security is projected to be in “bankrupt” in 2042.)  

Slate’s Mickey Kaus sees Bush’s untangling of privatization from the funding shortfall as a way for the president to cover his tushshould the privatization plan get pummeled. Kaus isn’t the only one.“Oh my god,” one GOP politico told the Los Angeles Times. “Politically, the White House has made a lot of Republicans walk the plank on this. Now it sounds like they are sawing off the board.”

The New York TimesPage One Social Security piece takes some serious swings, past the jump:“The president did not address the cost to the government of paying full benefits to retirees for decades while tax money was being diverted into private accounts. Nor did he say how much this would increase the annual budget deficit. There was no mention of what would happen to workers who become disabled, or the minor children of workers who die. No one in the administration mentioned how workers who retired when the market was in a slump would be protected financially.” And that’s just a partial excerpt.

The Wall Street Journal does a “lessons learned” from the roughly 20 countries that have partially privatized their state pension systems. One: Don’t give workers too many choices; they’ll screw it up. Another: Going private can add lot of debt, helping to explode the economy. (See Argentina and Bolivia.)

Bush also proposed a big increase in aid to Palestinians, to $350 million. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas announced they’re going to hang for a summit in Egypt next week.

The Washington Postfronts, and others stuff, GOP leaders’ interestingly timed sacking of the chair of the ethics committee after he showed some independence and went ahead with rebukes of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Two other Republicans were also appointed to the committee, both of whom have contributed to DeLay’s defense fund.

The NYT’s Dexter Filkins says on Page One that with Iraq’s Sunni turnout appearing to be “quite low,” as one “western diplomat” put it, they still might try to participate in politics, namely by killing the constitution. Under current rules, that happens if any three provinces vote against it. And Sunnis are a majority in three provinces. (A report from the well-regarded non-profit folks at IWPR quotes one Sunni leader saying, “We are part of Iraq, so we have the right to reject” the constitution.) The WP has a different angle: “SUNNI CLERICS OFFER THEIR COOPERATION.”

According to early morning reports, 12 Iraqi soldiers were killed near Kirkuk.

The NYT notes that in January the Marines (just barely) missed their monthly recruiting goal, the first time that’s happened in a decade.

The WP says inside about 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Syria since the war began.

Back to SOTU … A number of the papers solidly compare and contrast the president’s talking points with reality, especially on Social Security. The LAT’s piece is particularly good.But the most unvarnished fact-checking by the papers, not surprisingly, isn’t actually in any of them. Post associate editor Robert Kaiser was asked in a Web chat, “Anything[the president] said strike you as objectively untrue?” He responded, in part:

Yes. Bush often describes a world whose features are all highly debatable, if not simply invented. He proposes “a comprehensive health care agenda” that will leave perhaps 50 million Americans without health insurance. Is that comprehensive in any meaningful sense? He promises big economic benefits from legal changes, “tort reform,” that independent economists say cannot have more than a small economic effect even if enacted, which is not likely. [And] he promises to increase the size of Pell Grants, not noting that they have shrunk far below the level he promised when he came into the White House.