The state of Social Security

Bush must seek a permanent solution, but one too hastily crafted is fraught with peril.

President George W. Bush’s fifth State of the Union address was delivered in approximately one hour – and in that hour, the president set out an aggressive-sounding agenda with many grand statements and ideas but not a lot of specifics.

However, he did delve deeper into his Social Security philosphy than he has in previous speeches, explaining in plain language why he is determined to tackle it.

Explaining that the Social Security surplus will be exhausted by 2018 and its reserves by 2042, Bush emphasized the importance of reform sooner rather than later. For once, he acknowledged the validity of others” ideas, including those of Democrats, and even said, “I will listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer.” But he went on to claim the only way to solve the crisis will be “voluntary personal retirement accounts.”

While Bush’s plan might work for some, it will be very difficult for lower-income workers to establish these accounts. Unfortunately, we as a society are not good money-savers; and those who are already have retirement accounts and investments set up for their own futures. Social Security is guaranteed income – that is what makes it stable.

While Bush claims these accounts would be voluntary, he did not make it clear what the alternative would be for those who choose not to take that road. If those benefits would be fewer than those current Social Security recipients receive, this plan is unacceptable.

The president is right; we must find a permanent solution to the Social Security problem. But we must also not automatically jump to the first plan presented to the country without giving others the chance to come up with other options. Congress must be given time to deal with this issue in a thorough way, which might include means-testing and considering raising the retirement age.

College students in their 20s should be concerned about their retirements; in 2042 many of them will still be in the workforce. Bush has promised that reforms will be gradual and will have a safety net. But we need more details about his plan and other lawmakers to challenge it with viable alternatives. The Social Security debate must begin, but it must begin intelligently and with all ideas on the table.