Fred Thompson may have started his presidential campaign late, but he is the first candidate in either party to come out with solid plans to reform Social Security and immigration. And while most candidates have called for increasing the size of the military, Thompson laid out a detailed plan to achieve that end in a Tuesday speech at the Citadel Military College. On these issues, Thompson has set a standard for specificity, conservatism, and soundness that we would like to see the other Republican candidates measure up to.
Thompson would borrow the best Democratic idea on Social Security, creating investment accounts outside the Social Security system. Under this plan, each worker would have the option of diverting 2 percent of his wages into a 401(k)-type account, with the government adding $2.50 to every dollar saved. These accounts would make it easier for workers, especially low-income workers, to build up assets of their own.
Thompson has announced that, to keep Social Security solvent, he would slow the growth of benefits. Social Security benefits are currently indexed to wage levels. Since wages are expected to rise, initial benefit levels are too. Thompson wouldn’t tinker with the cost-of-living adjustment (in other words, benefits would still keep up with inflation), nor would his plan affect any current or near retiree (it wouldn’t kick in right away). Instead, Thompson’s plan is to eventually decouple benefits from wage growth. This, he argues, is the most equitable way to keep Social Security from running out of money without imposing a massive tax increase. None of the other Republican candidates has put forward a plan that deals so frankly with the challenges of reforming Social Security.
On immigration, Thompson rejects the notion that we must choose between deporting millions of people and granting them citizenship. The cornerstone of his proposal is a rejection of amnesty — because, as we learned following the 1986 immigration reform, granting legal status to illegal aliens before fully implementing enforcement measures encourages more illegal immigration.
But Thompson doesn’t accept the false assertion that “no amnesty” means we must initiate mass deportations. Instead, he would gradually shrink the illegal population by stepping up enforcement — ending “sanctuary cities” whose governments direct their police departments not to enforce immigration law; cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants; and completing a proposed border fence. The other candidates say that they want to fix entitlements and control our borders, but only Thompson has outlined specific, conservative policies.
Thompson’s most recent proposal is a detailed plan to increase the size of the military. Thompson told his Citadel audience that he would spend more on defense, replace worn-down fighting vehicles, and build a “million-member” ground force that would increase the sizes of the Army and Marine Corps to 775,000 and 225,000, respectively. That we need a bigger military has become almost an article of faith among the candidates for president, Democrat and Republican. This is a welcome development; additional detailed proposals like Thompson’s would be even more welcome.
The big news concerning Thompson this week, of course, has been the National Right to Life Committee’s endorsement of his candidacy. Ironically, this is one area of policy where Thompson has not expressed his views clearly. He has stated that he thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, but he hasn’t taken a position on what he thinks the states should do about abortion if and when Roe is overturned.
It’s obvious why conservatives see something to like in Thompson. He has offered clear, conservative ideas on fixing Social Security, policing immigration, and expanding the military. We encourage the other candidates to follow his lead.