TCU Daily Skiff Tuesday, March 02, 2004
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Cuts in Social Security needed to save it
Government must make sure our generation is not left out

Patrick Jennings

Our generation is screwed, really screwed.

You’ve probably noticed that the government takes away part of every paycheck you receive. Much of that goes toward Social Security. Not yours, but the monthly Social Security check of those who are retired and already receiving their money.

But trouble looms on the horizon. Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve Board chairman, in a discussion with the House Budget Committee envisioned a bleak future for the largest of the entitlement programs.

The system has worked so far because there are many more workers paying into Social Security than there are retirees pulling money out. Unfortunately, the generation of baby boomers is going to start retiring and collecting checks in four years. Eventually, it’s estimated that there will be only two and a quarter workers a person receiving Social Security benefits. Currently, there are well over three.

Under the current level of payroll taxes and expected level of benefits, the government is going to be in the red to the tune of about $1 trillion. The country is already running a deficit, so something has to change before we start accruing debts we can never compensate for.

In his discussion, Greenspan recommended decreasing benefits and tying the cost of living increases to an index that shows lower changes in purchasing power each year. Some advocate changing the earliest age for benefits from 65 to 67, and Greenspan suggested making it even later, because people are living much longer lives than they did when Social Security was first introduced.

He maintained that President Bush’s tax cuts are helping the economy and should be made permanent. Similarly, the deficit in Social Security tax revenue to its outflows should not be made up by increased payroll taxes.

Sounds reasonable, right? If your job is to make the economy run smoothly, Greenspan’s solution to the problem is the least of half a dozen evils. If your job is to be elected president in November, you hate the idea.

John Kerry insists getting rid of Bush’s tax cuts is the way to make up the difference. John Edwards called the chairman “a disgrace” for this stance. Dennis Kucinich, who I like to call the nutball-in-residence, called it “an outrage” and asked for the resignation of Alan Greenspan. Bush was a little less critical, stating that the benefits will remain the same for those at or near retirement. Other Republicans mimicked Bush’s distancing from the topic.
So who are we to trust and believe? Alan Greenspan is a man who has held his unelected position for over a decade under four presidents. He is at least respected in practice by almost everyone on Capitol Hill. The other option is to accept the position of the elected officials in a big election year. Retirees are one of the largest voting blocs in the country, and if you want to win, you do the best job of pandering you can.

If we don’t act now, we face an even worse situation in the future. The government needs to take steps to ensure that our generation will get back some of the money we pay in to Social Security. And when choosing a way to do it, I’ll side with experience and unresponsiveness to public opinion.

Patrick Jennings is a junior economics major from Melbourne, Fla.

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