Issue Position: Social Security
While the Social Security program does not face an immediate crisis, in only a few years when the baby-boomers begin to retire, benefits paid out will begin to exceed funds flowing in. According to the 2005 Social Security Trustees' Report, beginning in 2017, there will not be enough money coming into the system to pay full benefits. Furthermore, the Social Security Administration's trustees project that by 2041, Social Security's trust funds will be depleted, and the program will not be able to pay all its promised benefits. According to the Social Security trustees, if no action were taken until the trust funds become exhausted in 2041, payroll taxes would have to be increased by nearly 35 percent above the current tax, or benefits would have to be reduced by 26 percent. In order to avoid these consequences, something needs to be done now to fix the system.
Social Security is, and has always been, an important program. Today, the Social Security program provides benefits to retired and disabled workers and to the survivors of deceased workers. Currently, nearly 48 million Americans are receiving some form of Social Security benefit. We must ensure that this program continues to provide benefits to the working Americans that deserve what they have earned.
As you know, the major source of funding for Social Security is the payroll tax paid by today's workers, including federal employees and members of Congress. In 1950, almost a decade after the Social Security program was created, 16 workers paid into Social Security to support one beneficiary. Today, there are about three workers for every retiree, and when workers entering the work force today retire, there will be only two.
Both Democrats and Republicans recognize the problem and the need to fix the program. In 1999, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said "Fixing Social Security is an urgent priority. It ought to be at the top of both parties' agendas." Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), the ranking Democrat member on the Senate Budget Committee, recently reiterated Senator Dorgan's comments and said "It is time to address this problem. Social Security must be preserved and strengthened."
In 2001, a bipartisan presidential commission made three recommendations to improve the Social Security program. All three proposals included some form of voluntary personal retirement accounts that would allow younger generations to build their own retirement savings outside of Social Security, while at the same time protecting and preserving benefits for today's seniors and those near retirement.
As Congress begins the debate on how to address Social Security's pending financial problem, please know that I will not support any proposal that does not give a 100 percent guarantee that all current and future beneficiaries will receive their benefits. I will also support a proposal that makes the current system solvent and allows younger workers to voluntarily build their own nest egg for their retirement security, which they would own and be able to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
Medicare is another pressing issue for lawmakers and citizens alike. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to increase from 39.7 million to 69.1 million. Medicare now covers only 53 percent of the average senior's annual medical expenses. Our current program lacks flexibility and fails to provide the care seniors require and deserve. We are currently working to implement programs that will ensure that seniors are guaranteed access, allowed a choice of health care plans, and have the opportunity to participate in a prescription drug benefit.
Physicians are finding it increasingly difficult to participate in the Medicare program. Without Medicare, doctors will not be able to provide services and patients will not receive the care they so desperately need. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the 110th Congress to ensure appropriate levels of reimbursement for physicians and that the program continues to grow by including an ever-expanding list of services for Medicare patients.
President Bush recognized the problems confronting the Medicare program and the need to make it secure for future generations. The Medicare Prescription Drug program (P.L. 108-173) modernizes Medicare from a 1965 era program to a program that will strengthen our private health care system, creates incentives for competition and a consumer driven approach to health care, and gives our seniors the full measure of modern medicine that has been promised to them. This is just one example of the efforts that we, as your elected officials, are making to guarantee the viability and vitality of the program.