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A Promise to Our Seniors

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

August 14th is the 70th Anniversary of Social Security

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security as a way to afford seniors and the disadvantaged the ability to escape poverty and live independently. Seventy years later, Social Security has clearly succeeded in meeting that goal.

Social Security is a great American success story. It saved our seniors during the darkest years of the Great Depression and continues to protect individuals of all walks of life. For generations, Social Security has been a bedrock for Oklahomans.

Currently, Oklahoma is ranked 17th in the nation in the percentage of beneficiaries. Across our state, 613,500 Oklahomans depend on Social Security. They are seniors, people with disabilities, survivors, and nearly 40 thousand children.

Now some are saying that Social Security is in "crisis" and can't survive - while all reasonable research tells us just the opposite. Proponents of privatizing the program have resorted to scare tactics to generate public support for their risky plan.

They have put forth a proposal to dismantle the Social Security program into private accounts. It would take funds committed to guaranteed benefits and distribute them into individual accounts in private markets. At retirement, some or all of the account would be divided into monthly payouts. This effectively replaces guaranteed benefits with a risky private account that would leave the fate of seniors to the whims of the stock market.

If this plan were in effect today, as many as 430,171 Oklahomans could see their check cut by $247 per month. This would be the single largest Social Security benefit cut for the middle class in history. The plan would also increase our national debt by $5 trillion over 20 years, passing mountains of unpaid bills onto our children and grandchildren.

No one can say that Social Security doesn't need to be shored up for future generations, but risking the security of children and seniors is not the answer. Even if left untouched, Social Security will be fully solvent for nearly 50 years, and would continue to pay 80 percent of benefits thereafter.

It's important that Congress take the necessary steps to plan for the future without reducing benefits. Returning to the path of fiscal discipline is the first step toward a solution. Congress should stop raiding the Trust Fund and reinstitute strong pay-as-you-go budget rules that do not grow the deficit. We also need to secure pension benefits and expand investment options, making it easier for workers to save for retirement through 401(K)'s and IRA plans.

In 1983, both Democrats and Republicans worked together to address an immediate financial crisis in Social Security. Both parties should follow that example and work together to address the current challenges facing the program.

The only crisis facing social security today is privatization. By applying common-sense and bipartisan solutions, we can ensure that it will continue to protect Oklahomans for the next 70 years and beyond.

Social Security has never failed to pay promised benefits. It's predictable, keeps up with inflation, and does not fluctuate with the stock market. We owe it to our seniors to ensure that the prospect of retirement is not met with poverty. On its 70th anniversary, Congress should celebrate the success of Social Security and renew its commitment to strengthening it for future generations.

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