Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh and FOX News host Sean Hannity distorted remarks made by former President Bill Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 1999 to claim that the two prominent Democrats supported private Social Security accounts. In fact, Clinton -- and subsequently, Reid -- were advocating a plan to invest a portion of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market, not President Bush's plan to divert a portion of Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts and cut the program's guaranteed benefits.
On the February 4 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, after playing a clip from the 1999 State of the Union address in which Clinton proposed committing "60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector," Limbaugh falsely asserted that "Clinton proposed the same thing" as Bush's plan for private accounts.
But Clinton and Bush's proposals for Social Security are not "the same thing," as Media Matters for America has noted. Clinton did not propose encouraging workers to divert payroll taxes into private accounts, and his proposal to invest some trust fund assets in the stock market was a specific attempt to avoid "drastic cuts in [guaranteed] benefits" -- like those Bush will likely propose -- by allowing the trust fund to earn a slightly higher rate of return in the stock market. Clinton also rejected proposals that would "drain resources from Social Security," thus avoiding trillions of dollars in transition costs.
On the February 7 edition of FOX News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity used an out-of-context quote by Reid, which the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently circulated, to assert that Reid once favored President Bush's proposal for private accounts:
HANNITY: He [Reid] said in 1999 on FOX News Sunday, quote: "Most of us have no problem with taking a small amount of the Social Security proceeds and putting it into the private sector."
Now, let's go to 2004. George [W.] Bush, hating Bush, [Sen.] Ted Kennedy [D-MA] leading the way and this is what he [Reid] says today. "If someone wants to privatize Social Security, they are going to have to find someone else to get in bed with other than me."
Doesn't that show that this is now politics for these guys?
In fact, the context of Reid's 1999 comment on FOX News Sunday clearly indicates that he was promoting Clinton's proposal to empower the Social Security trustees to invest a portion of the trust fund in the stock market, as Media Matters has noted.