Bush forces nation to touch ‘third rail’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2005

Whatever you do, do not touch the third rail. It's a line uttered in dozens of scenes from dozens of Hollywood films.

Almost any action scene set in the New York Subway system, for example, will usually include the added element of danger when the characters must run near the high voltage, &uot;third rail.&uot;

The most important thing to remember about the third rail is you must avoid it at all costs.

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The phrase &uot;third rail&uot; has also become so engrained into our pop culture that it is used to describe almost any issue that could be deadly if touched.

Well, move over Hollywood actors. George Bush is here.

That's right, love him or hate him, Bush ignored the political danger signs and is walking straight down the political third rail known as Social Security reform.

For years, experts have predicted the quickly approaching demise of the Social Security system. Everyone knew it was dying, but no one wanted to touch it. It was dangerous.

Unafraid of the potential political fallout, Bush is determined to reform the troubled federal retirement system.

Lots of options are on the table. One option for helping keep the Social Security system solvent for decades involves allowing citizens to invest some of their Social Security taxes privately.

Other options under discussion include increasing the amount of income taxed on the wealthy. At present, only the first $90,000 in annual income is eligible to be taxed. Raising that figure evenly slightly could generate significant sums of cash that could likely keep the plan afloat for decades to come.

The best part about the current debate over Social Security reform is just that: it is being debated.

Bush is forcing Republicans and Democrats alike to confront the issue directly. And, neither side is particularly happy about being forced to walk along the &uot;third rail.&uot;

But in the end, the livelihoods of millions of Americans will depend upon the courage of those people who don't mind risking the political third rail for the greater good.