In today's Post, Robert Samuelson makes the case for transforming Social Security (and Medicaid) into at least partially means-tested programs:
We ought to nudge these programs back toward their original purpose as safety nets -- and not retirement subsidies. When the ratio of workers to retirees was high, we could afford to blur the two roles. In 1960 there were five workers for every retiree. But now there are three, and the projection for 2030 is two. The consequences of subsidizing retirement are increasingly undesirable. It penalizes the young, threatens the economy with higher taxes and drains capable workers from the labor force.But in his giving GW Bush limited credit for "indirectly" broaching this issue, Samuelson overlooks the fundamental point of Bush's reforms - which are not to means test Social Security, so as to ensure that the neediest of the elderly are supported, even as cuts to the wealthier (and wealthiest) of the elderly are implemented to avoid the necessity of a tax increase.
The working poor would ultimately be hit the hardest by Bush's "reforms", as they would have the smallest "private accounts" while qualifying for the lowest retirement benefits (assuming any are still provided). And while the changes Bush proposes would also affect retirees of substantial means, Bush (like Samuelson) anticipates that they can take care of themselves. That may provide some overlap between the means-testing Samuelson proposes and the privatization Bush proposes, but there's no small difference between maintaining and undermining Social Security as a safety net.