Things To Act
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Social Security Notes
To the best I can recall, I have not ever heard anyone of my age cohort say confidently that Social Security is certain to provide for his or her retirement needs. On the other hand, I've lost count of how many times someone about my age has doubted that the system would be there for him in forty years. To the best of my observation (which is admittedly biased toward the upper-middle-class and more-educated), the implications of the demographic time bomb are taken for granted among young adults--and I suspect that the open disdain most of us have toward Social Security's role in our retirement is in large part the responsibility of the Democratic party.

After all, Democrats have been campaigning on themes of fear with respect to Social Security for longer than I've been alive. I don't think my generation thinks some evil Republicans (or Democrats, or anyone) is out to gut the program--I think we just assume that the program is obviously unsustainable in its current form, and thus don't count on it. And we're also d*mn resentful that the most popular "solution" involves raising taxes on us to subsidize fat monthly checks for seniors who probably don't need them.

I thus find it ironic that many of the same Democrats who for years argued that the system must be strengthened are now passionately arguing against any changes whatsoever. It is interesting to look at where we've been. For instance, Clinton mentioned social security in his SOTUs:


Now if we balance the budget for next year, it is projected that we'll then have a sizable surplus in the years that immediately follow. What should we do with this projected surplus? I have a simple, four-word answer: Save Social Security first.
Thank you.
Tonight I propose that we reserve 100 percent of the surplus, that's every penny of any surplus, until we have taken all the necessary measures to strengthen the Social Security system for the 21st century.
CLINTON: Let us say -- let us say to all Americans watching tonight -- whether you're 70 or 50 or whether you just started paying into the system -- Social Security will be there when you need it.
Let us make this commitment... ... Social Security first. Let's do that -- together.
I also want to say that all the American people who are watching us tonight should be invited to join in this discussion. In facing these issues squarely. In forming a true consensus on how we should proceed. We'll start by conducting nonpartisan forums in every region of the country. And I hope that lawmakers of both parties will participate. We'll hold the White House conference on Social Security in December. And one year from now, I will convene the leaders of Congress to craft historic, bipartisan legislation to achieve a landmark for our generation: A Social Security system that is strong in the 21st century.

With the number of elderly Americans set to double by 2030, the baby boom will become a "senior boom." So first and above all, we must save Social Security for the 21st century. (Applause.)
Early in this century, being old meant being poor. When President Roosevelt created Social Security, thousands wrote to thank him for eliminating what one woman called the "stark terror of penniless, helpless old age." Even today, without Social Security, half our nation's elderly would be forced into poverty. Today, Social Security is strong. But by 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover monthly payments. And by 2032, the trust fund will be exhausted, and Social Security will be unable to pay out the full benefits older Americans have been promised.
The best way to keep Social Security a rock-solid guarantee is not to make drastic cuts in benefits; not to raise payroll tax rates; and not to drain resources from Social Security in the name of saving it. Instead, I propose that we make the historic decision to invest the surplus to save Social Security. Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years. But we must aim higher. We should put Social Security on a sound footing for the next 75 years. We should reduce poverty among elderly women, who are nearly twice as likely to be poor as our other seniors -- and we should eliminate the limits on what seniors on Social Security can earn. Now, these changes will require difficult but fully achievable choices over and above the dedication of the surplus. They must be made on a bipartisan basis. They should be made this year. So let me say to you tonight, I reach out my hand to all of you in both houses and both parties and ask that we join together in saying to the American people: We will save Social Security now. Now, last year, we wisely reserved all of the surplus until we knew what it would take to save Social Security. Again, I say, we shouldn't spend any of it, not any of it, until after Social Security is truly saved. First things first.

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