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House Panel Divided On Social Security

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Prompt action on restoring the long-term solvency of the Social Security system would be “prudent,” the Comptroller General of the U.S. told a packed room at the House Ways and Means Committee last week, in clearly staying away from the “crisis” language that is creating trouble for Republicans seeking a revamp of the system.

And, in his opening statement, panel chairman William Thomas, R-Calif., said, “I do want to remind members as we move forward that retirement security in an aging society does not depend on Social Security alone. Personal savings, pensions, health care, especially long term and chronic care, each play a central role in helping seniors meet their needs.

“The Presidents leadership, however, has given us a unique opportunity to assess government institutions that worked but will not work in the future. And it has given this committee an opportunity to examine a number of other issues that probably would not be able to be examined in the manner the chair hopes we examine them if the President had not gone out front on Social Security issues,” Thomas said.

At the same time, senior Democrats on the committee were adamant that any hopes for bipartisanship will be elusive unless President Bush and Republican congressional leadership drop their demands for creating private accounts.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., ranking minority member, made clear to Thomas in his opening statement that, “private accounts cannot be on the table if you are looking for bipartisanship.”

“Private accounts do not address Social Securitys shortfall,” added Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., ranking minority member of the Social Security Subcommittee. “In fact, they actually make it significantly worse by diverting nearly $5 trillion from the Social Security trust fund over the first 20 years of private accounts.

“If President Bushs private accounts proposal were enacted, Social Security would experience a shortfall 11 years soonerin 2031,” Levin said. “Democrats stand ready to address Social Securitys long-term challenges and safeguard it for future generations, just as we have in the past. But we cannot accept the notion that you safeguard Social Security by undermining it. In recent days, the President has taken to trying to describe his proposal as adding on to Social Security. Addition is the opposite of subtraction.”

Comptroller General David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, said, “Although the Social Security system is not in crisis, it faces a serious solvency and sustainability challenge as time passes.” Walker pointedly did not call the Social Security solvency issue a “crisis.” Thats apparently because a memo obtained by the Associated Press said new Republican polling data shows “there is a rejection of the term crisis as an accurate description of the state of the Social Security system, and this rejection increases in intensity as the respondents get older.”

The analysis was based on 14 focus groups held last month in scattered locations and paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP, the AP said.

Two of the funds non-governmental trustees testified that, “We believe that action on it should not be deferred any longer than necessary for due deliberation and decision.” Public trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, Thomas R. Saving of Texas and John L. Palmer of New York, said, “Also, acting sooner rather than later will allow time to spread the burden of any changes across different age groups.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said “private accounts cannot be on the table if you are looking for bipartisanship.”

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 10, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.