Bush Sets Stringent Agenda
Social Security a top priority
January 30, 2005 8:46 PM
Pledging to unite the international community into a democratic safe haven, George W. Bush became the 15th president in U.S. history to be sworn in to a second term of office on January 20.
While most second-term presidents can look forward to a lame-duck session after the midterm congressional elections, the president said that he plans to work vigorously with Congress on his top domestic priority - overhauling Social Security by creating private savings accounts, allowing Americans to choose how to invest their own money for retirement.
Some financial analysts and lawmakers from both major political parities have criticized the president’s initiative. They argue that the cost of privatizing Social Security - estimated to be $2 trillion over the next decade - would be taken out of the current system and added to the national debt, further slowing economic growth as well as decreasing benefits to those set to retire over the next 15 years.
“Bush has only laid the groundwork for a change in Social Security but it’s Congress who drafts the legislation,” said Jason Smosna, Social Security aide to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Ca., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “While we’re still doing the research on the different methods of reform, we need to fix the system as soon as possible because if we leave things the way they are, by 2018 we’ll be forced to take money from the general fund.”
Thomas, who represents the 22nd district in Bakersfield, plans to examine many different approaches to Social Security reform, not just Bush’s privatization scheme, according to Smosna, 26.
“My boss will look at everything - race, gender, occupation - on how payout formulas are calculated for Social Security,” Smosna said. “Blue collar workers sometimes have to retire earlier than other workers because of injuries and illnesses.
“And the life expectancy of men is different than that of women, so that should also factor into how a new system is set up. As for health care, a Social Security retiree is more prone to long-term and chronic care, which is a large portion of the cost for Social Security, so Congress will have to also factor in those costs.”
Gene Ferguson, who works in the SF State Registrar’s office, said that Thomas is on the wrong track.
“Bush’s plan for Social Security won’t affect me, but it will affect my children and grandchildren. The private savings accounts won’t work because most individuals can’t save enough for medical problems that come later in life.”
Smosna said that Social Security needs to be reformed now if people in their 50s expect to get any of the money that they have put into the system. There just is not enough money to cover the large number of baby boomers who will retire over the next 20 years.
“At the rate the current system is being used up, there certainly won’t be anything left in the fund for my retirement,” said Smosna.
Chris Omarr, an SF State freshman studying psychology, said that he talks to his mother regularly about her concerns for Social Security.
“My mom works for the Oakland Unified School District and they are constantly cutting back on benefits,” said Omarr. “She says that she’s worried that all of the money she has put into the system won’t be there for her by the time she retires.”
Future problems with Social Security funding would not directly affect tuition costs for public university students, but Smosna said that Pell Grant recipients may suffer should the federal government need to cut services in order to pay for funding the current Social Security system past 2018.
“Tuition to state schools is not determined by Social Security,” said Smosna. “The state government factors that budget. But if a student plans to apply for Pell Grants, that’s another story. In the past few years, formulas have been changed to determine who is eligible for Pell Grants, and it will get harder and harder to vie for these grants if the money has to be diverted to Social Security.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Ca., on the other hand, does not share the president’s belief in the critical urgency of reforming Social Security, according to Victoria Plopkin, an aide to the senator.
“There haven’t been any distinct boundaries set for privatized accounts, nor has any legislation been drafted, but Senator Feinstein supports privatized accounts in conjunction with the current Social Security fund,” said Plopkin. “(Sen. Feinstein) does not, however, support increasing payroll taxes. We have a great deal of bargaining left to do, so I wouldn’t panic right now. The senator will fight for the right changes.”
Right-to-life issues also top the president’s agenda. With one or more Supreme Court justices expected to retire during Bush’s second term, many pro-life organizations are hoping the president will nominate conservative judges to the court, tipping the court in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
“With the current makeup of the Court, women don’t have anything to worry about,” said Alex, another Feinstein aide who declined to provide his last name. “But if a new judge or judges come up for confirmation, and a new abortion case came before them, the Court could overturn the 32-year-old precedent.”
Although the nomination and confirmation of judges isn’t controlled directly by the voters, Alex said that now is the time for voters to put pressure on local representatives. He also stated that it is good for women that Senators Feinstein and Boxer support a woman’s right to choose.
Smosna countered that it is unfortunate for Californians that the state is represented by two liberal senators who are proponents of abortion rights.
“There is no way that Feinstein and Boxer are going to support judges who openly declare a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade,” he added. “Boxer sits on the (Senate) Judiciary Committee, and I guarantee you (Boxer and Feinstein) will not vote in favor of confirming conservative judges.
“But Bush will not back down on the appellate or federal nominations. If he is the same man he was in his first term, he won’t do something just to please the other side.”
SF State employee Ferguson said he believes that there are more pressing issues that Bush can focus on in his second term, without specifying what those issues are.
“Social Security is fine the way it is,” said Ferguson. “And if it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.”
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