Don't lose focus on Social Security issue

March 03, 2005|By Richard Hugg

The Herald-Mail has published many letters about Social Security recently, that were in response to one letter in which the writer objected to having an obligation to pay Social Security taxes to provide benefits to qualified senior citizens.

Let us bring the discussion back to the real and important issues of reform of the Social Security system. No one in government, and no thoughtful commentator, has suggested that Social Security benefits will stop, or should stop. It has become too much a part of our culture to consider that as a possibility.

The real questions to consider are:

1. Is there a problem now in paying benefits? No.

2. Will we have a problem in the future paying benefits to seniors if we don't change what we are doing? Yes.

3. How will President Bush's proposed changes affect us now, and in the future? There will be no impact for those of us 55 and older, but there will be a very positive, healthy change for generations to come.


4. Why are some people arguing so strongly against any change? That takes more than one word, or one sentence, to answer appropriately.

Under the 1935 Social Security Act, there were 16 working people paying into the system for every person receiving money from the system in 1950. Today, because we are living much longer and we produce fewer children, there are only three people paying into Social Security for every person receiving money.

This trend will continue, according to the actuary experts at the Social Security Administration. By 2018, just 13 years from now, our government will be paying out more in Social Security benefits than it is taking in with Social Security payroll taxes.

How are we going to pay for the benefits if we are paying out more than we are taking in? Obviously, we are going to have to change something. What are our options? And when should we make the changes?

We can continue to do things the way we have since the 1930s, taking a larger and larger amount of money in taxes from those who are working. Leaving the system as it is will result in either substantially higher taxes for those left to pay, or reduced benefits for those receiving Social Security checks.

Or we can create a new solution for future generations with personally owned market accounts with part of what they send to the government. This will create nest eggs that will be personally owned by our younger generations and can be passed on to their children, if they wish to do that.

For excellent additional information, you can access the Web site for the Social Security Administration, The Financing, Planning and Budget section has this type of information. The "Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security" is very useful in understanding this issue. There are also Trustee Reports dating back to 1940 with extensive background information.

President Bush has taken on this controversial issue because he cares much more about the future of our children and grandchildren than he cares about avoiding political risk. He has the courage and strength to directly face this issue that in the past has been avoided. He deserves our support. His ideas are solid, he is willing to listen to and work with others, and he is doing this for our future generations.

There are those who regard Social Security as something that cannot be changed because it is part of the political legacy of the Democratic Party, a cornerstone of that party's philosophy. There are others who believe that any major initiative undertaken by the Republican Party and President Bush must be opposed because Republican success, in turn, must be interpreted as failure for the Democratic Party. That is one of the changes we have seen occur on the political landscape since the 1960s.

It may be impossible to keep partisan politics out of this issue entirely. However, an honest look at the changes in our population over the past 50 years and simple mathematics must result in agreement that change is necessary. If we must argue, let's do that over what type of changes should be implemented.

Social Security meant a great deal to my parents and grandparents in their senior years. I know that is true for many others. Let's do what we can to make it meaningful for all of our grandchildren as well.

Richard Hugg is chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee

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