- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Real immigration reform

I agree that real immigration reform should be a high priority for Senate Republicans (“REAL immigration reform,” Editorial, Wednesday). This reform should start by aggressively enforcing our current immigration laws. This includes securing our porous borders and vigorously prosecuting corporations that brazenly hire illegals.

Most Americans detest open borders and are livid that our politicians are selling out America for votes and cheap foreign labor. Americans are not against controlled legal immigration if immigrants assimilate into the American culture.

However, many immigrants today do not wish to become Americans. Instead, they retain their own culture and language and have allegiance only to their motherlands. This balkanization of America destabilizes our country by creating alien communities that can provide safe havens for criminals, drug dealers and terrorists.

A guest-worker amnesty program will further encourage this cultural divide, thus causing even more social havoc in America.

The failure of most Republican senators and some House Republicans to enact serious immigration reform could jeopardize the GOP majority. Every turncoat Republican (and red-state Democrat) that does not support Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr.’s immigration reform bill should be challenged in the 2006 primaries.

If the Democrats were smart, they would field their own pro-American candidates in 2006. Even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has cleverly spoken out against illegal immigration in an effort to appear more conservative in order to win the White House in 2008.

MARGARET MORTIMER

Warwick, Pa.

Don’t destroy Social Security

The Commentary column by Rich Lowry (“A better idea,” Friday), as well as the Commentary column by John Palffy (“Reform without cost,” Jan. 17), and those by Jack Kemp and Peter Ferrara (“Solution … with side benefits,” Commentary, Thursday) all presume universal agreement that the ownership-accounts proposal provides a safe and profitable alternative to the existing Social Security system. It is not safe, and it is not very profitable. Just look at the 36-year record from 1966 to 2002.

Table 712 in the Statistical Abstracts shows a cumulative inflation of 454 percent between 1966 and 2002. The Value Line publication, available in every public library, shows that while the Dow gained 970 percent from 1980 to 2002, it gained nothing in the 14 years from 1966 to 1980.

Thus, the overall effect on capital gain from buying and holding the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1966 to 2002 was only a nominal 6.8 percent per year, and this shrinks to 1.84 percent when corrected for inflation during those 36 years. After paying the capital gains tax, the real yearly capital gain is just 1.21 percent. With a dividend yield around 2 percent and management/broker fees about 1.5 percent, the overall yearly benefit over all those years was less than 2 percent. That is hardly enough to compensate for the loss of a risk-free Social Security entitlement.

Actually, it is possible to fix the Social Security problem without destroying it. Just adjust the retirement age as needed such that the number of retired is never more than 10 percent of those still working. This would get us back to the original concept of a secure, self-financing, pay-as-we-go system.

CARL E. OCKERT

Vienna

Beware Social Security advice

In Bruce Bartlett’s piece “Benefit tinkering myths” (Commentary, Saturday), he not only misrepresented former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s concerns in the fight over Social Security benefits. But he misreports the history of Social Security itself, completely distorts the history of the 1990s and either refuses to accept or does not understand political realities.

In 1995, in what was only the second time since World War II (the first was President Reagan in 1981), Mr. Gingrich led the Republican House in making real domestic spending cuts. Moreover, Mr. Gingrich led the Republican House in welfare reform, Medicare reform and the Balanced Budget Act. So it is grossly inaccurate for Mr. Bartlett to suggest that the former speaker is afraid to be fiscally tough.

Mr. Bartlett gets his shift in benefit calculations on a bipartisan basis in which Republicans cut benefits, give up their desired reforms and help Democrats impose a massive tax increase on Republican supporters all at no cost to the GOP. Talk about a free lunch.

Mr. Bartlett cites the Social Security amendments of 1977 where he says benefits were cut with no political backlash. But it was only five years earlier (in 1972) that benefits were first automatically indexed. A mistake in the 1972 indexing formula, which counted inflation twice, led to an over-payment of benefits. What Congress did in 1977 was correct that double counting. What Mr. Bartlett calls benefit cutting was actually and was perceived to be a correction to an error. In the same year, by adopting a permanent regular increase in benefits firmly attached to wage indexing and rejecting price indexing the Congress returned to the intended policy. The only opposition in 1977 was from Republicans over long- term tax increases adopted in the measure.

Mr. Bartlett cites the 1983 Social Security amendments that changed the retirement age from 65 to 67. But that was part of a package that virtually all Democrats and Republicans voted for because Social Security was not going to be able to pay full benefits within a few months and neither party wanted to suffer the politicalconsequences from letting that happen. So both sides agreed to vote for it together, negating any political advantage for either side.

Mr. Bartlett cites the 1993 amendments which raised the taxation of Social Security benefits first adopted in 1983. This was part of the Clinton tax increase package passed by a single vote. What Mr. Bartlett ignores is that the Republicans did run against the Democrats on that vote in 1994, the year the GOP gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years and have held ever since.

Mr. Bartlett concludes that the public will accept Social Security benefit cuts if they are explained. But exactly how does he plan to explain his benefit cuts resulting from the price indexing he favors. Social Security already offers workers a dismally low rate of return — negative for many workers. He makes the argument that under the current wage-indexing system there would be an unjustified 40 percent increase in benefits over the next 40 years. But how is it unjustified? As wages increase so does the worker’s payroll tax. How is he going to explain that while workers’ taxes go up with wages they should expect their benefits to go up only with prices? What worker would accept that explanation?

Contrary to a justifiable explanation, this shows that the price indexing idea Mr. Bartlett supports is politically indefensible.

While polls show strong majorities in favor of personal accounts, overwhelming majorities oppose cuts in future promised benefits. While Republicans have now won many elections supporting personal accounts, none of them have won anything campaigning on cutting future promised benefits. To seek those benefit cuts now would be self-destructive, giving the Democrats a powerful argument that would have the benefit of being true to beat Republicans in future elections.

The average Social Security benefit for a single retiree today is still only $920 per month. It is absurd to be arguing that this pitiful benefit needs to be frozen in real terms forever. Republicans should be advancing personal accounts, not by promoting the idea that Social Security benefits are too high and need to be cut, but by arguing that they are too low and need to be greatly improved, which is precisely what personal accounts would do.

Republicans heeding “political advice” from policy minds do so at their peril.

RICK TYLER

Communications director

Gingrich Communications

Lincoln, Va.

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