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Smaller sacrifices now can save Social Security
If our leaders can get past politics, we'll keep essential program intact


The Democrats say there is a Social Security crisis caused by the Republican tax cuts. The Republicans say the tax cuts have nothing to do with the Social Security crisis and that the crisis could have been eliminated if the Democrats hadn't killed President Bush's bill allowing some Social Security money to be invested in private accounts.

Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institute think tank say there is no crisis that a few nips and tucks here and there cannot cure.

Everybody agrees that Social Security is very important to people reaching retirement age. It is most of the income for two-thirds of them and all the income for 20 percent of them. If no changes are made, it will cover promised benefits for the next 38 years, according to trustees of the Social Security administration. It will cover 70 percent of promised benefits through 2078.

So, what kind of nips and tucks do the Brookings people recommend to take care of the gap after 38 years? There are several.

A payroll tax increase would be a start. Wouldn't working people be willing to pay a little more all along so that retirement money would be assured? I think they would, even though no tax increase is ever welcome.

Another way to make up the difference would be to make modest cuts in benefits for new Social Security recipients.

For example, a 45-year-old worker would get 1 percent less when he reaches retirement age, with larger cuts for younger age groups. This would be in addition to the increase in Social Security taxes.

Of course, if the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were cut back by half, that would also eliminate the gap in Social Security funds.

Social Security came into existence in 1935. Since then, many businesses and industries have supplemented it with pension plans. Unfortunately, it now appears that those pension plans are disappearing. That makes Social Security even more important.

The crisis cited by Democrats and Republicans alike is years away, but we cannot afford to wait until it is upon us to find a cure. The longer we wait, the more drastic the cure will have to be. By acting now, the cure can be almost painless.

People who are now drawing Social Security need not fear that their government checks will be reduced. Every plan that has been considered by Congress leaves your check alone.

All the plans considered or proposed only affect those who will start getting Social Security in the future. If Congress can get its act together, even they will hardly notice the difference.

There is absolutely no reason to have a war between the generations. No plan calls for the old to be supported by the young. But we who are on Social Security now should actively encourage our congressmen to deal realistically with the situation. We do not want our children and grandchildren to suffer because our representatives choose to be politicians rather than statesmen.



Community columnist J.A. West, a retired lawyer who lives at Moss Lake, writes about senior issues.



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