- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Any change in Social Security must promote economic growth and not simply change the nature of the trust fund, the head of the Congressional Budget Office said yesterday.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, called CBO director Dan L. Crippen before a Senate panel to lay the groundwork for today's final report by the president's Commission to Strengthen Social Security.
The commission is expected to recommend three solutions to the problems facing Social Security. All three solutions involve creating private accounts for individuals to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the market.
But savings accounts alone don't create new wealth, Mr. Crippen said they just shift the money from benefits paid by the government to benefits paid from investment account proceeds.
"If you're taking money from one pot of money and splitting it up into millions of pots of money, it doesn't matter; it'll have minimal effect," he told the Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday.
Mr. Crippen was summarizing a new CBO report that looked at Social Security as a component of the U.S. economy. Because of demographic changes, the future doesn't look good, he said.
By 2030, about 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product twice the current proportion will go to spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. At the same time, fewer workers will be paying for each retiree: In the next 30 years, the category of people 65 and older will grow more than 90 percent, while the work force population paying for their retirement benefits will grow about 15 percent.
That leaves a hard choice, Mr. Crippen said. "Although policy-makers have many goals, if they want to limit the growth of spending on the elderly as a share of GDP, they have only two options: Slow the growth of total payments to the elderly or increase the growth of the economy," he said.
Mr. Breaux, chairman of the special committee, called the hearing to let the CBO, the Congressional Research Service and the General Accounting Office set the stage for today's commission report.
Mr. Crippen and the representatives from the GAO and CRS said Social Security's trust fund the surplus money that is supposed to cover rising costs as more workers retire will run out of money in 2038. But they said the critical date is 2016, the year when payouts to retirees will exceed what the work force can cover and when depletion of the trust fund will begin.
Lawmakers agree that action on Social Security won't be taken next year. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that the president wants to see a debate on the issue, but he also said Congress' schedule is packed tightly. At the Capitol yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Mr. Breaux both said they don't foresee action next year.
"I don't see an opportunity, and I'm not trying to push it off or deny its importance or infer that we won't do it, but we are just not in a position to do that right now," Mr. Lott said.
Commissions usually are put together to come up with a nonpartisan recommendation, and then Congress takes over, deciding to accept it, reject it or shelve it for a while. The usefulness of such commissions, Mr. Breaux said, is that lawmakers then can point to their conclusion as an authority of sorts.
Making multiple recommendations and recommendations that already have been on the table, however, the commission fails to become an authoritative voice.
"I, for one, was hoping we would get a recommendation [and] we could say, 'This is great,' 'Not so great,' 'This is terrible,'" Mr. Breaux said. "We know the options, we know the choices."

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