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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Frist Tells Senate Social Security Reform is Needed This Year

Opponents of Social Security reform may find themselves regretting that Washington Post article yesterday that quoted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saying President Bush probably wouldn't get a vote on the issue this year. Frist's spokesman denied he meant that yesterday and today Frist took to the Senate floor to deliver the following remarks:

“Social Security is a critically important program which serves as the cornerstone of support for senior citizens. But it now faces challenges that threaten its long-term stability and well-being. The facts are crystal clear. They’re grounded in demographics that were defined two generations ago, and those demographics can’t be changed.
“In three years the baby boomers arrive on the Social Security rolls. That will begin a 30 year period where we’re going to have a doubling of the number of seniors compared to what it is today – up to 77 million Americans who will begin to collect Social Security benefits.
“Meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer workers paying into the system, a fact that is also driven by demographics. Forty years ago we had 16 people paying in for every retiree. Today, we have three people paying in for every retiree. Those are the facts, and the facts simply cannot be changed.
“This President and this Congress are facing this challenge and the challenge is to fix Social Security for seniors, for near retirees, and for the next generation. We need to do it this year. Not next year, but this year.
“Our majority has worked aggressively and thoroughly to fully understand the nature of the problem. We’ve worked hard to begin to engage the American people in a dialogue about the program. We’ve had town meetings all across the country. We talk about social security in our conferences. We are interacting with administration officials. We have interacted with leading experts on the Social Security system. And our members are hard at work to fix the underlying problems at the heart of the challenge in this 70 year old program.
“Mr. President, my colleagues and the President agree that retirees and near-retirees will not see benefit changes.
“We also agree that we must harness the power of the market and give younger Americans the choice of personal retirement accounts whose rate of growth, and ultimately rate of benefits, will grow faster than traditional Social Security.
“And finally, we all agree that all ideas should be on the table. It is too early for people to be drawing rigid lines in the sand and, thus, we would encourage people to continue the discussion, the debate, and the understanding of the issue and not put it off to the future.
“For those who insist there is no problem, I simply say, look at the facts. And as people increasingly look at the facts, and we’re seeing the response around the country, people see that the problem is real, that it is significant, and that it is growing.
“For those who say we don’t need to take action, if you have a problem that’s growing, it’s much easier to act now to cure the problem than it is to have radical surgery in the future. We need to explore the solutions to the problem and in a free and public debate. And we need to put those ideas to a vote. Ultimately, the people must judge.
“I say all of this to let the people know that our majority is hard at work every day on this vital issue. We are in ongoing consultation with the administration and with the House of Representatives. And we will continue to bring before the Senate meaningful solutions that will make a difference in the lives of our seniors.
“The assurances of Social Security should be guaranteed. To be able to guarantee those assurances, we must diagnose the problem and then we must act. We must govern with meaningful solutions, and that is exactly what this Congress will do."