Audiences gathered for town hall meetings in 10 cities Saturday to discuss strengthening Social Security for the next generation of retirees. Asked if they had a message for President Clinton, attending live by satellite, the crowd in Tallahassee, Fla., shouted in unison: "Listen to us."
The president assured participants, "Your views will be vital to our work here in Washington." But he warned: "No matter what we do with the Social Security system, Americans should be saving more for their own retirement."Groups of more than 100 people in each city took part in the video conference. They talked not only with Clinton but also with each other, Social Security Commissioner Kenneth Apfel and Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., attending in Detroit.
Each audience met Friday night to try to reach common views to take into Saturday's intercity discussion.
Smith, representing the GOP approach, suggested letting workers personally invest portions of money now withheld for Social Security. He asked the audiences if they were intelligent enough to do that. A woman named Janet replied over the hookup: "I think here in Boise, Idaho, we're smart enough to make those choices."
The remark drew applause from the Boise crowd.
The subject already was a topic of spirited debate before Smith spoke. Carolyn Cox, speaking for citizens in Denver, said, "What we would like to see are personally owned and funded retirement accounts."
Audiences in several other cities strongly disagreed.
"Privatization is a potentially very risky scheme," said Vaughn Thompson in San Francisco. "In times of economic downturn, when the stock market bottoms out . . . what happens?"
Clinton said Americans' differences shouldn't discourage lawmakers from acting soon to reform the nation's endangered retirement system.
"We do not need to put this thing off," Clinton said. "If we act soon and responsibly, we can strengthen Social Security in ways that will not unfairly burden any generation."
The president urged young people especially to pitch in.