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71st Anniversary of Social Security: Let's Strengthen, Not Privatize

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71st Anniversary of Social Security: let's strengthen, not privatize

Seventy one years ago, Social Security was created to provide retirement security for all Americans. President Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a system that would provide insurance to workers to allow them to retire with dignity and independence.

Social Security now provides crucial financial support to millions of seniors, surviving spouses, and people with disabilities. Currently, over 270,000 Mainers receive benefits. Today, it is clear that Social Security has succeeded in meeting President Roosevelt's grand goal.

Despite this record of unparalleled success, and despite the fact that Social Security is projected to be fully solvent for 50 years, last year the President claimed that the program needed to be completely overhauled, and offered his plan to fundamentally change Social Security by privatizing it.

The American people overwhelmingly rejected that approach. While Americans can see the case for improving Social Security and strengthening it even beyond 50 years from now, they do not want to see the program — and the basic retirement security that it provides — gutted.

Unfortunately, despite this strong and bipartisan public opposition, the Administration is still determined to replace the guaranteed and secure Social Security benefit with its risky private account scheme.

In fact, Administration officials and their allies in Congressional Leadership have said several times that they plan to return to their plan for Social Security after the 2006 elections — that is, when it is as far as possible from the next time they would have to face the American voters, who staunchly oppose their plan.

In a speech this past spring, Carl Rove, the President's top political advisor, admitted openly that the President intends to push forward with his plan to privatize the system. Josh Bolten, the president's new Chief of Staff, also confirmed this June that the Administration intends to renew its privatization effort in 2007.

The President's budget this year even set aside $712 billion specifically for Social Security privatization over the next ten years.

This push for privatization runs counter to the open, bipartisan way that Social Security has been handled in the past. Over the years, members of both political parties have worked together to strengthen and improve the system.

In the 1950s, disability benefits were added. In the 1960s, Medicare was created to guarantee health care for seniors. In 1983, faced with a rapidly depleting Social Security Trust Fund, Congress worked with President Reagan in a bipartisan way to come up with a plan to make sure that Social Security would remain solvent far into the future. All of these changes involved bipartisanship.

Today, the willingness on the part of the Administration to compromise and work across party lines is simply not there. And the result is a stubborn insistence on privatization or nothing.

Of course, the most basic problem is not just that this effort is not being pursued in a bipartisan manner. It is the fact that privatizing Social Security is such bad public policy. Privatization undercuts the basic mission of Social Security - to provide a basic income safety net for seniors and the disabled.

The details of the President's plan reveal just how damaging it would be. It would increase our national debt by $5 trillion — more than 50% — over 20 years and would drain trillions from the Social Security Trust Fund. This would make it harder to pay guaranteed benefits, and ultimately would just pass our generation's bills onto our children and grandchildren.

The privatization plan also relies heavily on benefit cuts. These cuts would apply to everyone under the privatization plan, regardless of whether they decided to take private accounts or not. Under the privatization scheme, benefits for everyone would be cut by at least 40%.

On its 71st anniversary, we must renew our commitment to strengthening Social Security for the future. This will require some work — and that work must be done in a bipartisan way. But if we all remain committed to the principle that retirement should be secure, and that we must move forward together, Social Security will continue to be a safeguard for generations of Americans.

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