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Social Security

Location: Washington, DC

SOCIAL SECURITY -- (Senate - February 03, 2005)

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank the dean of our women in the Senate, the woman who was first and blazed the way for all of us, the distinguished Senator from Maryland. I thank her so much for her leadership on this and other issues.

Our dean has said so many times, honor thy father and thy mother. They are not just important words in the Bible, but they are important words to live by. This debate about Social Security certainly reflects our values in honoring our fathers and our mothers. So I thank her for that.

I rise with my colleagues to speak today about the greatest American success story of our time, Social Security. Prior to Social Security, 50 percent of our retirees lived in poverty. Today, it is 10 percent. If that is not a great American success story, I don't know what is.

We are here unified to say that we want to keep that success story by keeping the ``security'' in Social Security. That is what this is about. We join in advocating for additional ways for people to save. I know my 20-something-year-old children are tired of hearing from me about the fact that they need to be putting dollars aside for the future and not just rely on Social Security.

There are ways we can come together. I was, frankly, disappointed last evening that we did not hear more from the President about ways we can come together to be able to develop those opportunities for everyone to create wealth and retirement security. But we don't do that by undermining the ``security'' of Social Security. Social Security represents the best of who we are, the best in American values. Our belief is that if you work hard and you play by the rules, you earn retirement security. We pay into that, all of us together pay into this insurance policy called Social Security. We deserve a basic quality of life and dignity in older years. Everyone does. And that comes from a joint community effort called Social Security, into which we all pay.

I think it is also important to look at the fact that Social Security is not just about tomorrow. It is an insurance policy, whether you are a 25-year-old like my daughter who is starting a career or you are a 78-year-old like my mother, whom I can barely keep up with, and who is in her retirement years. The fact is, Social Security is there for both of them. Heaven forbid that something were to happen to one of my children and they become permanently disabled. But Social Security would be there as a disability policy. When they have children, if something were to happen and they would no longer be able to care for their children, Social Security steps in as a life insurance policy.

Think about it. This great American success story is a retirement policy, a life insurance policy, and a disability policy. We all do this together. That is what the ``I'' in FICA means. It is an insurance system.

We want to build upon that just as Federal employees are able to build upon that with thrift savings, and there are others, such as 401(k)s, and so on.

By the way, that is on top of Social Security--not in the place of Social Security.

But we stand here today, particularly because we know this insurance plan is of particular importance to women in the country. In fact, 60 percent of all Social Security recipients are women; 1 in 10 adult women receive Social Security disability benefits. As we get older, since we tend to live longer--I think once you get over age 85, you in fact see that the vast majority of people on Social Security are women. This is a fundamental women's issue of economic security.

We stand here unified to say we will fight to keep the ``security'' in Social Security for every woman and their families.

In my home State of Michigan, many Social Security recipients, of course, are retired. We also have 64,000 people who receive benefits either as a widow or widower, a spouse or child of a retired worker or disabled worker. Again, the majority of those are women and children.

We know that strengthening Social Security will require a lot of hard choices. We stand ready to join with colleagues on the other side of the aisle and the President to do that. But first we have to get this notion of privatizing Social Security and undermining it, unraveling it, off the table.

I suggest one approach for us to look at. This is something I feel very strongly about because we make decisions every day on values and priorities. Just like all of us do, we open our checkbook and we pay the bills and write checks. That reflects our values and priorities.

Right now, when we look at the overall Federal revenue in the budget, as I do as a member of the Budget Committee, we have to reflect and look at what we are really saying about our values and priorities for the future.

Consider the fact that keeping Social Security secure for 75 years requires only one-third--about 33 percent--of the costs of the tax plan enacted by the Congress and President Bush for the wealthiest Americans. Think about that.

In other words, if we were to ask those who are most blessed in this country through hard work, through inheritance, through other means, those who are most blessed with retirement security, if we asked them to keep 70 percent of that instead of 100 percent--70 percent is huge. It is billions of dollars in tax cuts. But if they kept only 70 percent of that over the next 75 years, you could keep the ``security'' of Social Security for 75 years.

To me, that makes sense. If we are really about making decisions and investments for all Americans, it certainly makes sense. And it certainly makes more sense than privatizing Social Security.

Here is why. Privatization will cut benefits by one-third to one-half, even for working women who choose not to risk their money in privatized accounts.

This is important. We are not just talking about cutting benefits for those who choose to privatize accounts but for those who do not choose to go this direction. The average retiree would lose more than $152,000 in benefits over the course of a 20-year retirement--$152,000 in benefits over 20 years.

An insurance policy was never meant to be a high-risk investment. We encourage people, on top of Social Security, to make investments. But this was meant to be the foundation for retirement.

I wonder where women would be without the ``security'' in Social Security today.

Beyond the deep benefit cuts and added risks, privatization would add $2 trillion in debt over 10 years. That is almost a 50-percent increase of the debt we have now, which is the largest in the history of the country. It is unbelievable. Unfortunately, much of that would be borrowed from countries such as China and Japan. That raises a whole range of issues economically in terms of our national security.

I think most women would agree that we don't want to pass the debt on to our children and grandchildren, forcing them to bear the burden of ever more debt and higher taxes.

I stand here today with by colleagues to say we will fight to keep Social Security secure, and then we will join in those efforts to both strengthen Social Security in the long run but also to create other opportunities for people to be able to save, people to be able to create wealth, to be able to have retirement security. If we take privatization off the table, which we know doesn't solve any of the problems of Social Security--it only creates more risk and uncertainty--we can then work together to get something done.

That is what people expect us to do. That is what we are here today to pledge to do. The women in this country, every one of our daughters and our granddaughters, and our mothers and our aunts, and all of those girls yet to come, as well as their brothers, deserve a secure retirement. They deserve that under Social Security. They earned that. They pay into it, and they are counting on it.

We are going to stand ready to make sure Social Security remains secure.

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