Columns » Bob McCord

Fooling with Social Security

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The highest accomplishment that President Bush yearns for is to change the American Social Security system that’s been with us since 1935. He started talking about it when he first ran in 2000, and two days after being re-elected last November he started again. Young workers pay into the system every month so that we retired people over 65 will get monthly checks to pay our bills. Two-thirds of the retired workers in the nation rely on these checks for their main source of income. However, the president thinks workers should be allowed to invest some of their Social Security contributions in stocks that would help their future retirement income. Therefore, it would not be necessary to increase Social Security payments so often. The problem, of course, is that Social Security is running out of money. It will be paying out more than it takes in by 2018. The country can hardly continue to borrow more money. With the war in Iraq, its deficit has risen to $413 billion, and the total national debt is $7.5 trillion. Everyone agrees that something has to be done to keep Social Security going, but AARP and the trade unions have already come out against personal investment accounts. Many people know very little about investments, and it’s likely that some would buy stocks that would crash. That’s what happened in Great Britain a few years ago when it began to allow workers to make investments, and the value of most of them went down instead of up. However, the nation of Chile requires its retired workers to buy investments from a list approved by the government. According to Time magazine, the Chile program has been successful, and the man who thought it up has already told President Bush how it works. Sen. Blanche Lincoln is opposed to the president’s idea. She is a member of something called “The Third Way,” a group trying to avoid any extreme change in Social Security. She remembers what happened in Arkansas three years ago when the teachers invested their retirement money with a Texas company called Enron, which collapsed. The senator said, “Fifty percent of the people in Arkansas are already trying to live on $25,000 a year, and it’s ridiculous that they might be forced or enticed to put their Social Security money into Wall Street.” Lincoln is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which looks out for Social Security. Its chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has had this to say: “Anybody who thinks that borrowing money for the transition to personal accounts is going to solve the problem of the long-term solvency of Social Security doesn’t understand the size of the problem.” There are many others in Congress who don’t like the president’s idea. Some say that 30 percent of them are Republicans, especially those who are up for re-election in two years and know that the average voter won’t like this change in Social Security. I believe that Bush might not have been re-elected if the Democratic Party had spent more time and money in talking about Bush’s fondness for this foolish way to help Social Security. The New York Times Sunday indicated that the presidential election tension between the Republicans and Democrats would stop Bush’s plan. The Republicans still do not have the votes to avoid filibusters. “The clubby nature of Capitol Hill, even the basic civility, has diminished,” said the Times. Bipartisanship is disappearing because of the declining number of conservative Southern Democrats known as “dealmakers.” Partisan redistricting has eliminated many of the swing districts in the House of Representatives, which is the reason why there has been only one example of bipartisanship this year — the passage of the No Child Left Behind law. Political scientists from the University of California and Princeton created what the Times called “The Ideological Divide” that shows that based on congressional votes the two parties today are further apart ideologically than any year since 1901. There are better ways to strengthen Social Security. Increase retirement age from 65 to 68. People with incomes larger than $87,900 don’t have to pay Social Security’s 6.2 percent tax above that figure, but this surely can be changed. The cut-off could be raised to $200,000, and the tax could be increased for these wealthy workers. Some members of Congress are saying these things could produce enough money to solve Social Security problems for at least 10 years. Just those changes would make things more fair, and, sure, there would still be complaints but not as many as the president’s idea will create. I liked what the New Yorker had to say about it: “The Bush plan is asking you to swap an insurance policy for a lottery ticket.”

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