- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Bush yesterday said raising the retirement age for Social Security and recalculating how future benefits are paid are among many “good ideas” on the table in the discussions about overhauling the 70-year-old retirement system.

During a speech at the state Capitol, Mr. Bush said that unless major reforms to Social Security are made, “we will leave our children and grandchildren with only a few drastic options to keep the system afloat.”

Social Security trustees predict the program will begin running a deficit in 2017 and become bankrupt in 2037 owing to the nearly $11 trillion in promised benefits that the government would not have the money to pay.

Mr. Bush rattled off a list of ideas put forth by Democrats and Republicans to address the system’s long-term solvency, the first time he has been so specific during his 60-day national tour to sell his idea of incorporating private investment accounts into Social Security.

“Former Congressman Tim Penny, a Democrat from Minnesota, has suggested tying Social Security benefits to prices rather than wages,” Mr. Bush said. “My predecessor, Bill Clinton, had meetings all around the country on Social Security, and he spoke of increasing the retirement age at one time.

“I put together a commission of Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “They recommended changing the way benefits are calculated. An interesting idea was put forward by a Democrat Social Security expert named Robert Pozen, who has proposed a progressive way of structuring benefits that will be more generous to low-income workers. And that’s an important idea.

“In other words, all ideas are on the table, but they have one thing in common,” Mr. Bush said. “They all require us to act now.”

Democrats have chastised Mr. Bush for focusing solely on the private retirement accounts and not addressing the long-term solvency of Social Security, and have maintained that the president’s plan would result in a cut in benefits down the line.

Mr. Bush maintained yesterday, however, that anyone born before 1950 would not see any change in benefits in any reform plan he would approve.

“If you’re receiving a Social Security check this month, you will continue receiving a Social Security next month, and the month after that and every month for the rest of your life,” he said.

A senior Democratic aide said yesterday that opponents of Mr. Bush’s plan are “not going to take the bait” and join Mr. Bush in talking about long-term solvency plans that most experts agree must include a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts.

A recent Associated Press report said Democrats have changed their strategy on Social Security and have softened their stance that no negotiation will be possible until private accounts are abandoned.

Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans United to Protect Social Security, said Democrats remain adamant.

“Privatization is, has been and will be the target until it’s deader than roadkill.”

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