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Social Security fearmongers leaning on lies


“Today, more than 45 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, and millions more are nearing retirement – and for them the system is sound and fiscally strong. I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you; for you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.”

- President Bush

State of the Union Address

Feb. 2

It’s hard to think how the president could have made it any more crystal clear the crisis facing the Social Security system is not a threat to current and near retirees, but rather to their children and grandchildren.

Lamentably, however, some of his political opponents in Congress and special-interest groups continue to use the issue to frighten senior citizens into believing their retirement security is at risk.

Because such scare tactics have been effective in the past, it’s not surprising they would be resurrected. But they’re still wrong. Polls show most Americans seem wise to the tactic.

A recent Harris poll asked: What is the most important issue for government to address? Social Security was the top answer, ahead of the war in Iraq, health care and a host of other important issues.

More tellingly, a Gallup poll in the same time frame found nearly two-thirds of respondents believe President Bush’s proposal to allow individuals the option of investing part of their FICA taxes in regulated personal accounts is a “good idea,” even if it meant Social Security’s guaranteed benefits would be reduced.

As complex as the issue is, voters increasingly grasp that it boils down to some basic facts. When Social Security was founded in the 1930s, average life expectancy was 63.

Since benefits didn’t start until age 65, the system was obviously sound financially. Moreover, there were about 42 workers paying taxes into the system for every retiree drawing benefits.

With life expectancy increasing and fewer babies being born, that ratio has gradually dropped to about 3-to-1 today. Within a decade each retiree will be supported by only 2 workers, putting even more strain on the system.

In just 13 years, there will be less revenue coming into Social Security than payments going out to beneficiaries, and under current law, benefits must be reduced to match revenue in 2042.

As President Bush pointed out, “2018 and 2042 may seem a long way off. But those dates are not so distant, as any parent will tell you. If you have a 5-year-old, you’re already concerned about how you’ll pay for college tuition 13 years down the road. If you’ve got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter.”

To foster a bipartisan discussion, President Bush has made clear that all options are open and reformers will listen to “anyone who has a good idea.”

No lasting solution will be easy. But we must move ahead with an open and honest discussion, free of demagoguery and scare tactics, or we will fail to meet a most basic responsibility we have to future generations.

Sen. Jon Kyl. R-Ariz., serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees and chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

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