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 Social Security awaits Bush's exit

First published: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 , in the

Republished in SeniorArk by permission of the author, 11-07-07

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 bye-bye.

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 jzsmith@star-telegram.com.



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