- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

Democratic leaders are viciously attacking President Bush's Social Security commission, accusing the bipartisan panel of wildly exaggerating the financial troubles that threaten the program's future existence.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who built his political career on making up facts and then shooting them down, joined in the all-out diatribe last week to smear the commission. He charged that it presented "a biased, misleading picture of where Social Security is now and where it is headed."
The panel's eight Republicans and eight Democrats, including former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, were "trying to scare people into thinking we have no choice but to cut benefits," Mr. Gephardt said. Its well-documented interim report was "part of a 66-year drive to gut Social Security and let people fend for themselves," he said.
But Mr. Gephardt's dishonest broadside raised questions about who was really doing the exaggerating? Who was really using scare tactics?
Clearly it was Mr. Gephardt and the rest of his liberal henchmen in Congress who were trying to discredit the commission with two familiar Democratic weapons: fear and demagoguery.
"The assertion that Social Security is going bust in 2016 flies in the face of all reality," Mr. Gephardt said.
But neither the commission, nor its staff, nor the report ever said the system was "going bust" in 2016. What it said was that beginning in 2016, Social Security will start paying out more in benefits than it will be receiving in payroll taxes.
It isn't fiction. The Social Security Administration says it. The Social Security trustees say it. The last Democratic administration said it.
In one of the most dishonest exhibitions of denial, Mr. Gephardt pooh-poohed the report's contention that the system is in financial trouble. "These assets have the full faith and credit of the United States government behind them, and the Social Security system is fundamentally sound for many years to come," he said.
Is that so? In a major address on Social Security on Feb. 9, 1998, President Clinton stated that "all of you know that the Social Security system is not sound for the long term." America's prosperity and every American especially poor and low-income people were "threatened by the looming crisis in Social Security," he said.
It is not recorded anywhere that any Democrat in Congress challenged Mr. Clinton on that singular point, least of all Mr. Gephardt.
And what assets is Mr. Gephardt talking about? The Social Security trustees, the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service all point out that the system has no real assets.
Here's how the Clinton administration explained the Social Security asset myth in its fiscal 2000 budget:
"These balances … do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. Instead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures. The existence of large trust fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact on the government's ability to pay benefits."
Did Mr. Gephardt attack the Clinton administration for suggesting that there were no real assets behind the government's biggest pension program? Not even a peep.
In fact, the Missouri Democrat was singing a much different tune in 1998 when Mr. Clinton kicked off a national dialogue on the future of Social Security. (In fact, Mr. Clinton was secretly drawing up a plan to enact private investment plans similar to what Mr. Bush is proposing.) Mr. Gephardt, at that time, was saying that Congress not only needed "to shore up the financial structure of Social Security" but that individual, private Social Security investment accounts "can be part of the answer."
But there's a bigger political reason why Mr. Gephardt is attacking this important report. Much of it focuses on what a bad deal Social Security is for women and minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, and younger workers groups the GOP wants to win over.
"Women receive a higher percentage of their retirement income from Social Security than do men." the report says. And they are more likely than men to fall into poverty in their later years as a result of being widowed, divorced or single.
Blacks tend to get back less under Social Security than whites, in part because they die younger on average. And a disproportionate number of Hispanics will receive poorer rates of return because "the current system would be paying substantially lower returns than it did to earlier generations."
No one is hurt more in the current system than the younger generation. "Workers paying the maximum tax into Social Security and retiring in 2030 would have to live past age 110 simply to get back what they had paid in," the commission said.
No wonder Mr. Gephardt and the Democrats want to kill this report. Mr. Bush's plan would help workers create wealth through long-term investments that they would own and that their children can inherit. If that idea begins attracting women, minorities and younger workers away from the Democrats' base, Mr. Gephardt's party will be dead meat in the next election.

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