Canton Repository

February 13, 2005

Local lawmakers wary of plan for Social Security

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s championing of a Social Security overhaul has yet to find any clear-cut supporters among area lawmakers. Democrats are aghast at the initiative, and Republicans are wary.

“The White House has got to get off the table any talk about changing benefits,” said Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville. “As long as that discussion is out there, this thing is going to sink faster than the Titanic. And anybody that thinks it’s not is just full of themselves.”

Bush has pledged that no one 55 or older would see any reductions in their benefits, but he left the door open for younger workers.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is unwilling to support any reform plan until he sees a detailed proposal.

“We don’t have a plan, we have a concept,” he said. “You’ve got to think about how it would work in a practical way, so I’m not at this point ready to sign on to anything.”

Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, both Republicans, also have adopted a wait-and-see stance.

“It’s just reckless to take the one program that all Americans can agree on that is efficient and effective and works and to try to let Wall Street hijack it,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles.

Bush has made strengthening the system, which pays benefits to almost 48 million Americans, a priority for his second term.

The retirement system’s board of trustees has projected that unless changes are made, Social Security will begin taking in less revenue than it pays out in benefits in 2018. The system would run out of money in 2042.

“If we did nothing until 2042, achieving actuarial balance would require a 30 percent reduction in benefits or a 43 percent increase in payroll taxes,” U.S. Comptroller General David Walker told Congress last week.

Beyond proposing what he calls voluntary personal retirement accounts, Bush has offered few details of his plan. He has challenged lawmakers to offer their own ideas to preserve and strengthen Social Security.

Under the proposal, workers could channel about two-thirds of their Social Security taxes into individual accounts, where they could choose to invest among several conservative stock and bond funds.

The president said the individual accounts, owned by the workers, would earn more than Social Security funds.

Democrats consider the accounts risky. They also charge that the underlying purpose of the proposal is to privatize Social Security.

“What happens if people’s private accounts go south?” said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain. “What is Congress to do in 30 years when people retire with very little money?”

Ryan and Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, also oppose the accounts, which they said would worsen the projected shortfall in revenues.

Regula isn’t sold on the accounts, either. Although he might favor tax changes that would encourage individual investing, he said individual accounts would not necessarily solve Social Security’s woes.

Ney is willing to consider individual accounts, but only with a guarantee that current benefits would not be cut, he said.

“I think, in general, people would be fooling themselves here (in Washington) if they think that they can do anything to change, disrupt the covenant that was made with seniors of what they’re going to have,” he said.

“Let’s get that off the table that we’re going to change benefits or retirement age.”

Reaction to the president’s reform effort has been heaviest in Ryan’s and Brown’s districts, the lawmakers said.

Ryan said he’s received 2,400 letters from constituents opposing the “privatization” of Social Security, and only one expression of support.

In Brown’s district, more than 1,000 people have written or called opposing privatization, while just one person favored the president’s proposal, his office said.

Reaction was mixed in Regula’s district. Ney said he’s received some letters “but not a huge amount.”