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Reforming Social Security

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


REFORMING SOCIAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - July 13, 2005)

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Ms. FOXX. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and all those who have developed the legislation to save Social Security which we call GROW.

I am going to repeat some of the things that both Members have said because I think it is important to repeat them. There are many times when we have to say the same things over and over in order to get the message across.

We have heard a lot about Social Security reform. I just came here this year. This is my first term. I was told it was going to be an exciting term, and a lot of things would be done, and I cannot think about something more exciting than save Social Security.

There are a lot of strong opinions about doing this, but we get some of our best ideas not from Washington but from places like the Fifth District of North Carolina that I represent. That is why I commute to Washington to vote but return home every chance I get.

Recently, as I often do, I stopped by a restaurant in my district to have breakfast. While I was there, I engaged the people there in a discussion about Social Security reform. I shared with them some of the same things you have been talking about, and many people do not understand the fundamental facts about Social Security.

We have got to make sure that our current retirees and those near retirement have the peace of mind of knowing they are going to get their full Social Security benefits for their entire retirement. The government has promised them that, and that is an obligation we have. But we also have to make sure that the benefits are there for our children and grandchildren. The folks in Bojangles that I talked with understand this and certainly agree with us, but we know right now that Social Security is financially broken.

I think that the President has done a good job of explaining that to the people, but again over and over we have to say it. As the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) said, back in 1950, we had 16 workers working for every person drawing from Social Security, for every beneficiary. Today there are just over 3 workers paying for each person receiving benefits. Within two decades only 2 people will be supporting each retiree.

I love his phrase about the law of demographics. He is absolutely right. We can repeal a lot of laws here and pass a lot of laws, but we simply cannot repeal the law of demographics, and we are facing that in this country. We have to deal with it. We have to understand that is a reality that has to be dealt with.

The life expectancy is much longer today than it was when Social Security was created. As he said back in 1929, people were only expected to live 57 years. In 1937 when Social Security was adopted, people were expected to live to only 60. Well, Social Security was set up to be drawn out at age 65. The people who set up Social Security never expected many people to draw from Social Security. But today, most people live to be 80, and it is not too much in the distant future that most of us are going to be living to 100.

The fact of the matter is that Social Security will begin running out of money in just 13 years and be completely broke in a matter of decades. For the millions of Americans who depend on Social Security, it is simply unacceptable. If we do not reform Social Security, taxes will have to be doubled or tripled in order for the system to keep its promises to future retirees.

In less than 40 years if we do not make changes, the government will have to take at least 30 to 40 percent of every worker's wages to pay for Social Security benefits. Compare that to 1940 when workers paid only 1 percent of their salary into the system, and that was basically the promise that was made when Social Security was adopted.

President Bush has called on Congress to help fix the Social Security system, and I agree with him that we have to take action. I think that the GROW accounts are a great step in the right direction. We have to protect Social Security benefits for our current retirees and near retirees while giving younger workers more ownership and control over their Social Security taxes.

I like the idea of giving workers control and putting their money into their personal accounts. This gives them control over their money and the government less opportunity to misuse it. I am confident that once people focus on the facts and study this issue, they will realize that Social Security reform is essential.

Many people have been misled about the need for reform. However, once they have the facts, and I am convinced of this, they agree that something has to be done to protect the retirements of our future generations. We have a responsibility to save Social Security so our children and grandchildren can receive the benefits that we have enjoyed.

Several different programs have been recommended to deal with the Social Security problem, but I am convinced that the plan that has come together to be called the GROW accounts is the best plan that we have right now to move us in the right direction. As other people have said, we have an obligation not only to the people who are currently drawing Social Security but those who are coming after us to make sure that their money is where they can draw it out and look to their retirement.

One of the things I ask people about all the time, too, is can anybody live on the average benefit that Social Security gives them. It is my understanding it is $921. That is the average benefit. So far in all the town hall meetings that I have had and all the discussions I have had, nobody that I know of says they can live off $921 a month.

I think that this discussion we have had on Social Security is performing a couple of good services for us. One, it is focusing on the problems with Social Security; but it is also raising the awareness of the American public that you cannot just depend on Social Security for your retirement. You have got to be looking to other ways to have the kinds of funds that you need to live comfortably in your retirement, and I think that that is the other benefit that this discussion on Social Security has brought about.

I again want to commend the gentleman and his colleagues for what they have done in bringing to us the GROW accounts, and I want to tell you that you have my support on this. This may not be where we end up on salvaging Social Security, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We are taking the first steps. I want to thank you for doing that and pledge my support to you in educating the American public about this and hope that even more good ideas will come as a result of the discussions.

Mr. SHADEGG. If the gentlewoman will remain for a moment, I would like to just ask her, I presume you have done Social Security town halls back home.

Ms. FOXX. We have.

Mr. SHADEGG. If they went like mine, you got a lot of feedback and a lot of confusion about how the Social Security system works.

Ms. FOXX. We did.

Mr. SHADEGG. I suppose, like a lot of us, people are confused about, well, what is the right overall solution and they are not quite sure exactly which reform measure is the right one to do. Is that right?

Ms. FOXX. That is right. But they do know, as you have pointed out before, that they and others have paid money into the government and they were expecting to get that money back with some reasonable rate of return, some interest paid back on it. That is the deal we made with them.

Mr. SHADEGG. And when they discover, as our colleague from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) explained, that we are actually taking that short-term surplus that we have, the excess of revenues we are getting in this year over the benefits we are paying out this year and we are spending it on other things, as he pointed out, we are spending it on phenomenally expensive wheelchairs or we are spending it on Forest Service pickup trucks or we are spending it on welfare benefits or we are spending it on whatever other program is out there and not spending their Social Security taxes to set aside for Social Security, not on Social Security benefits and not on paying future benefits, what kind of reaction did you get from your constituents?

Ms. FOXX. They are very upset by that. And the question is, why have you been spending the money? I am in the fortunate position, I have not been in Congress before, so I can say, I did not do that, although the gentleman from Texas is absolutely correct, it has been done by both Democrats and Republicans, so we have to fix this situation.

Mr. SHADEGG. I think it is a fair question for us to ask as Members of Congress today, and I think the gentleman from Texas was very fair on that point, both Republican Congresses and Democrat Congresses have used the Social Security surplus for non-Social Security purposes. I guess the question, though, that I want to ask you and a question that I have thought about is, could I go home to my constituents and justify to them that it is appropriate for me to take their Social Security taxes and spend them on some other purpose? I think the answer for me is no. Have you given that question some thought?

Ms. FOXX. I have. I agree with them. And when my constituents say that to me, again through this education process, they have learned the problems that have been created by Social Security and, again, they have understood these laws of demographics that we have explained. They want us to stop this. It is a pretty simple thing. Most of the people in my district are just down-to-earth folks with a lot of common sense. There is some sort of rule, what is that law, when you are in a hole, the first law is to stop digging. They just say to me, just quit doing it.

Mr. SHADEGG. Just quit digging. Quit stealing that Social Security surplus and spending it on other things.

Ms. FOXX. That is right. So the proposal you have made I think is again a step in the right direction. Down the road we may find that we have to do other things, but the most important thing is to get people to get control of their retirement. As I said, I think that this issue has brought up the point that they cannot just depend on the Federal Government to look after them. I think we have performed a cruel hoax actually on the people of this country by letting them think that their Social Security was going to take care of them in the manner to which they have become accustomed. It is only one part of it, but it should be a secure part of their retirement. As the gentleman from Texas has said, the security part has gone away.

Mr. SHADEGG. I want to thank the gentlewoman for her contribution to this discussion and invite her to stay and discuss it further.

I do want to build on a couple of points she made.

First of all, I want to make it clear that this is not my idea. I am one of the people advancing it. Here in the House, it will be introduced by the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Shaw). I think his name will be the second on the bill. The first name on the bill will be that of the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. McCrery), who is the chairman of the subcommittee on Ways and Means that deals with Social Security, so it will be the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. McCrery) and then the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Shaw) and then the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Ryan) along with the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Sam Johnson). Those will be the original cosponsors along with myself here on the House side.

But I think there are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, I would hope, of Members here on the House side who will be cosponsors of the bill when it is introduced. I have to give credit where credit is due. The original idea, as I mentioned earlier, was brought to the Congress by my former colleague here in the House, now a member of the United States Senate, JIM DEMINT, and there are at least 11 Senators who have already signed on as a coalition to try to build support for this idea on the Senate side as well. I think it is important that we build momentum for that.

When we have these discussions, it is useful for the listening audience to know that they can go other places to learn more. The policy committee which I chair has a Web site with substantial information about this idea of taking the Social Security surplus and dedicating it to individual accounts for individual taxpayers and making it their money forever; but I am certain that at your personal Web site and at my personal Web site, they can gather other information and learn about it.

The thing that occurred to me in that question about how do you oppose this, and our colleague from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) said, Gosh, I don't even understand why this is even debatable, I would hope that Members listening to this debate, but, hopefully, Americans listening to our discussion tonight, might say to themselves, I would like to learn a little bit more about GROW accounts, I would like to at least ask my Member of Congress whether she or he thinks it is appropriate to take my payroll taxes that I pay in for Social Security and spend those on something other than Social Security, whether it is wheelchairs or jet airplanes; and if they say, no, it is not really appropriate to take the payroll taxes that I pay in for Social Security, FICA, that I get on my little pay stub and use those for something else, to ask their Member of Congress whether she or he will vote to dedicate the Social Security surplus, we have 10 more years of surplus that we know of without any reform at all, we have 10 more years of surplus, do you favor allowing the Congress to continue to steal that money and spend it on other things, agricultural programs, you name it, or will your Member of Congress agree to vote to dedicate the payroll taxes that we raise for Social Security solely to Social Security?

I certainly hope that Americans across the country when they see their Member of Congress this coming weekend or sometime over the August break, I hope they will confront them and ask them that question because I think it is the question we have to answer. Maybe we cannot solve the whole Social Security problem in a single blow. Maybe we cannot do it all at once; but the one thing we can do, and I like the way you say it, we can stop digging the hole deeper by taking the Social Security surplus and spending it on something other than Social Security.

Ms. FOXX. I think that is a very, very fair question. I think you are absolutely right. The challenge is to get a majority of the Members of Congress, in the House and the Senate, to commit to doing this. It is the only fair thing to do. Again, it is such a commonsense issue. The people of this country understand that is their money, they have worked hard for it, they and their employer are putting that money aside and they expect to be able to get that money back, again with some reasonable amount of interest when it comes time for them to retire.

People can find more information on the Internet these days than I ever even wanted to know, but they can get in touch with their Member of Congress, they can find out where he or she stands on the GROW accounts and where he or she stands on the issue of saving Social Security. I would encourage them to do so.

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