Social Security awaits Bush's exit
By JACK Z. SMITH
First published: Tuesday,
October 23, 2007
, in the
Republished in SeniorArk by permission of the author,
Last week, the nation's first baby
boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling of Cherry Hill, N.J, signed up to
receive Social Security benefits when she turns 62 in January.
Kirschling -- born Jan. 1, 1946, one second after midnight -- is the
first of the boomer crowd born from 1946 through 1964.
During the next two decades, nearly 80 million Americans are expected
to become eligible for Social Security benefits.
By 2017, revenues from Social Security payroll taxes are expected to
be less than the benefits paid. By 2041, the assets of the Social
Security trust funds are projected to be exhausted, with payroll tax
revenues covering only 75 percent of the cost of benefit checks.
Congress must take action to prevent this catastrophe. The longer it
delays, the more painful and costly the remedies will be. But political
reality dictates that we can't expect strong, beneficial legislation
before January 2009.
That's when President Bush exits the White House. Chances of passing
good reform legislation that truly strengthens and preserves the Social
Security program will be dramatically enhanced with the departure of the
Great Polarizer, whose highly unpopular privatization scheme couldn't
even come close to making it through a Republican-dominated Congress.
Social Security reform has been considered dead for a year or more as
a result. But now isn't too soon for members of Congress to resume
talking in earnest about potential long-term financial solutions and
establishing a goal of adopting remedial legislation after Bush goes
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and the panel's
ranking Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, have introduced
legislation to create a bipartisan commission that would seek specific
solutions for the nation's long-term funding problems, including the
alarming long-term deficits projected for Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security probably needs multiple solutions, including a sharp
increase in the income cap on payroll taxes that fund the program.
The Social Security payroll tax rate, which now totals 12.4 percent
per $1 of earnings (6.2 percent from the employer and 6.2 percent from
the worker), could be increased modestly. The age for receiving full
retirement benefits could be gradually increased very slightly because
people are living longer. Other possible solutions also exist.
Social Security has greatly reduced poverty among the elderly.
Fifty-four percent of elderly married couples and 74 percent of single
elderly persons get more than half their income from Social Security.
It's crucial that we save the program. But to ensure that it is done
correctly, Congress should pass legislation only after 1600 Pennsylvania
Ave. gets a new occupant.
Jack Z. Smith writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.