On Social Security, Democrats Offer ‘No Deal,’ Not New Deal

Posted May 10, 2005 at 5:01pm

The last time Congress had to take up Social Security reform, Members thought it would be fixed for at least 75 years. Unfortunately, Social Security is facing insolvency again unless Congress acts soon. In just three years, the first “baby-boomers” begin to retire and the Social Security surplus will shrink rapidly. In just more than a decade, Social Security will begin to spend more money than it is taking in.

You don’t have to travel too far outside of the Beltway to understand how worried older Americans are that their children and grandchildren may not receive the benefits of Social Security that they currently receive. Most Americans realize that we need to find solutions to this problem now, to ensure that Social Security can deliver peace of mind for future generations the way it has for the past 70 years.

In fact, a Gallup Poll released this week found that 81 percent of Americans think that something should be done in this generation to help ensure that Social Security remains solvent.

The problem is clear. In 1950 there were 16 workers supporting every single Social Security retiree. Today, there are only 3.3 workers supporting each retiree, and when today’s younger workers retire, it is estimated that only two workers will be struggling to support each retiree. At that time, the Social Security trust fund, which now consists only of government promises, will need to be paid back through higher taxes or cuts in other federal spending.

The bottom line: If nothing is done before 2041, the system will default and benefit levels will automatically be reduced by 27 percent for all workers.

The choice is simple. We can either help correct this system now, or do nothing and be forced into massive tax increases and benefit cuts later. To Republicans in Congress, there’s only one choice. We must work together now, across the country and across party lines, to find a solution to fix this problem.

Recently, a group of House Republicans and Democrats met with William Novelli, the CEO of AARP, the largest advocacy group for older Americans in the nation, to discuss the need for Social Security reform. The bipartisan meeting, set up by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), marked the first time Republicans and Democrats in the House have sat down with the AARP to discuss Social Security.

This bipartisan exchange of ideas, while long overdue, was clearly a step in the right direction toward putting partisan politics aside so we can move the ball forward on Social Security reform. While we did not agree on everything, we agreed that we need to start working together to help find a solution that works for the American people — not just for our respective political parties.

Unfortunately, some who oppose finding a solution to the Social Security problem, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), continue to stand in the way of bipartisan discussions.

On countless occasions, Pelosi has called for bipartisanship on the issue of Social Security reform. Yet, when the opportunity for bipartisanship arose recently, she demanded lock-step opposition from her Members to any meeting with AARP that included both Republicans and Democrats. Of the five original Democratic participants who agreed to attend the meeting, only two broke party ranks to help be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem.

Furthermore, while Pelosi acknowledges that the current Social Security model is on the road to collapse, she refuses to offer her own plan. Last week, during ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos (a former senior White House adviser in the Clinton administration) asked Pelosi repeatedly why Democrats have not put forth their own plan. After tirelessly listening to her politically charged attacks on the president without answering his questions, Stephanopoulos asked in point-blank fashion, “Why should the American people trust the Democrats if [they] don’t have a specific plan [on Social Security]?”

Pelosi’s response exposed her inability to look beyond the partisan glass. She said: “The American people should trust the Democrats because we originated Social Security.” That’s it. Apparently this 1937 piece of legislation lets Democrats off the hook for the next 70 years?

Further, as reported by numerous major news outlets Monday, Reid has been “warning” Senate Democrats not to discuss Social Security reform with Republicans. Clearly, Reid is in on the Democratic obstruction movement afoot on Capitol Hill.

Social Security is a trust between the government and the American people. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to ensure that Social Security is safe, solvent, and fair across generations, so that they will enjoy the same safety net that older Americans enjoy today.

I am convinced that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the father of the New Deal, would be outraged by Pelosi’s “No Deal” plan on Social Security. In fact, when Roosevelt won passage of Social Security, he spoke about the need to ultimately modernize Social Security by allowing each and every working American to grow a nest-egg.

Instead of their tag-team attacks on Republicans who are discussing solutions, it would be more helpful if the leaders of the Democratic Party “allowed” their colleagues to take part in the Social Security debate. We certainly will not all agree on what the specific plan should look like, but we should all be willing to work toward fixing the problem now and not leave the bill and a pile of empty promises to our children.

I’m hopeful that Pelosi and Reid will muster the courage, conviction, and leadership to fulfill their obligation to the American people. The “No Deal” plan is not a plan to save and secure Social Security.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) is vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.