Not long ago my senior-citizen parents, both Republicans, called me in a panic, fearful of a reduction in their Social Security benefits. I assured them that no serious person is contemplating a change to any benefits for current recipients and those over 55, although Democrats’ strategy is to claim falsely that current recipients are in danger.
Now Congressman Paul Ryan, the man at the forefront of Social Security reform, is on the ticket, and Republicans must find a way to define the issue on their own terms. And they must do it fast, before Democrats do it for them.
The good news is that the issue can not only be defused — it can be turned to our advantage. All it will take is some guts, imagination, and a one-sentence bill. Paul Ryan himself should burnish his plain-speaking, truth-telling reputation with the introduction of a bill that states nothing more than the following:
“No current recipient or any individual aged 55 years or over as of January 1, 2012 will experience any changes to his current or promised benefits under Social Security.”
Seniors have been callously frightened by dishonest Democratic attack ads. Putting the minds of worried seniors at ease is a very good reason to introduce this bill, as is making clear the Republican Party is dedicated to preserving these benefits.
The bill would cement the GOP advantage among senior citizens and put Democrats in a difficult position: vote for the bill and give up what has been their most powerful campaign attack, or vote against it and open themselves up to attack by the very same weapon. Will Democrats wheel themselves off the cliff?
It gets even better. Members of Congress can mail out copies of the bill to every senior in their district, cost-free, under the franking privilege — a return on investment that would impress even the Bain Board of Directors.
It’s also a rhetorical boomerang. Every time Democrats mention “The Ryan Bill” (meaning Ryan’s overall budget proposal), most voters will understand it to mean the new Social Security preservation bill.
The Republican ticket must take the initiative on Social Security or risk losing its core constituency. The “Shortest Bill in History” is the best way to do it, because it doesn’t matter if you have the right policies if you don’t have the right message.
Todd Stump is an entrepreneur who has built broadcast television, publishing and digital media properties primarily in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, he consults with U.S. political candidates and organizations to produce powerful brands and effective, creative messages.