Something has to be done with Social Security. The obvious question is what. There are plenty of opinions to go around.
That uncertainty was evident when a House GOP plan to create a commission to consider the future of Social Security was met with skepticism - not only by the Clinton administration but by some Senate Republicans.Whether a special commission is needed is debatable. What is not debatable is the need to change the program. That is perfectly clear. A strong bipartisan effort is needed to come up with the best solution. And that united effort should be the focus of all members of Congress.
Proposals to link Social Security to the stock market, like ones outlined by Sen. Phil Graham, R-Texas, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., need to be seriously considered.
Graham's plan mandates new workers put 3 percent of their income into a Social Security investment plan beginning in 2000. Older workers could either stay with the current system or transfer to the new one.
Moynihan's proposal is not as sweeping. It allows 2 percent of the Social Security tax to be put into a personal retirement savings account. He also proposes reducing the cost-of-living benefit increases by 1 percent and increasing the retirement age to 68 in 2023 and to 70 in 2073.
Give them credit for addressing the problem. And it is a challenge that is not going to disappear. Failure to resolve it now will result in a significantly more serious dilemma in the future.
Dynamics have changed considerably since the program originated in the 1930s. Then, there were more than 40 workers for every retiree. That ratio is now less than 4 to 1. By 2030, it's projected to be less than 2 to 1. The reason for the substantial change is that by 2030 the number of Americans over 65 will increase more than 70 percent while the number of working-age Americans will grow only 4 percent.
The baby boom generation and other demographic changes will not only put the program at risk but will sink it unless significant modifications are made.
According to projections, by 2010 the Social Security trust fund will begin paying out more than it is taking in. By 2029, surpluses will be exhausted with the fund being able to pay only about three-quarters of promised benefits.
That is what lawmakers need to keep in mind as they debate how to revamp Social Security. They also need to remember that retirement affects members of both major political parties equally. The populace does not care who gets credit for a solution, just that there is one.