Don’t let Social Security debate pass you by

Privatization leaves Social Security with shortfalls and requires a huge influx of cash.

Although Social Security is not a topic that young Americans are accustomed to talking or thinking about, I strongly urge college students to not let the current Social Security debate pass by without making your voice heard. 

With all the talk of retirement benefits, disability benefits, survivor benefits and protecting voters who are older than age 55, you might think this is an issue that doesn’t affect you. Yet, the fact is, college students and other young people might have the most to lose if President George W. Bush is successful in privatizing Social Security. 

Those of you who will graduate from college this year have seen the United States change drastically over the last four years. When you entered college, the United States was at peace and the country enjoyed sizable budget surpluses created during the Clinton administration. 

The country is now in the unenviable position of financing two wars, while at the same time trying to grapple with the record deficits created, in part, by the tax cuts of Bush and his party’s leadership. These deficits make ensuring the long-term solvency of Social Security more difficult than it needs to be.

Right now, Social Security collects more in payroll taxes than it pays out to beneficiaries, so there is a surplus credited to the Social Security trust fund. But while originally pledging to not touch the Social Security trust fund, Republicans have spent every nickel of it trying to mask the huge deficits they created. 

Social Security will start paying out more than it collects in payroll taxes in approximately 15 years and in approximately 40 years or 50 years Social Security will only be able to pay approximately 75 percent or 80 percent of promised benefits, depending on whose estimate you look at. Democrats and Republicans agree that this solvency problem must be dealt with sooner rather than later; but they disagree on the best way to do so.

Republicans propose private accounts, which do not directly address Social Security’s solvency challenges and will actually make the situation worse by diverting money away from Social Security into private accounts. Bush himself admits that his is “not the way to fix the system.” Privatization leaves us with the same shortfalls while requiring a huge influx of cash.

Republicans also propose borrowing $5 trillion during 20 years, much of it from foreign governments, to make up for the money diverted from the Social Security trust fund to establish private accounts. They would also cut the guaranteed Social Security benefits by more than 40 percent for everyone, whether someone opened a private account, to pay for the private accounts.

These trillions of dollars in debt will mean higher taxes for your generation while, at the same time, you’ll get stuck with drastically lower guaranteed benefits when you’re ready to retire. 

While retirement might seem light years away to you now, consider that if you have ever worked, you are already a part of the Social Security system and have already started to earn your future benefits. 

Bush admits that privatization is not a solution to Social Security’s problem, yet he and congressional Republicans continue to campaign nationwide without being honest about its consequences – steep benefit cuts and huge deficits. 

Social Security can be fixed without drastic benefit cuts and without creating huge deficits if Republicans drop their preoccupation with private accounts and join with Democrats to forge a bipartisan solution. Don’t let the Social Security debate pass you by. Be informed and speak out on an issue that affects your future.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is the honorary chairwoman of the College Democrats. Please send comments to [email protected].