Carper Urges Creation of Bipartisan Commission on Social Security

Says It Is “Irresponsible” to Increase Deficit, Cut Benefits

WILMINGTON, DE (Feb. 14, 2005) – Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today called on the president and Congress to “take the politics out of the Social Security debate” and create a bipartisan commission to recommend changes to strengthen and preserve the Social Security system. Saying he believed both Republicans and Democrats should keep an open mind on how to restructure Social Security to make it stronger for both old and young workers alike, Carper nevertheless warned that he would not support any plan that increases the deficit or cuts benefits for seniors. “Social Security enables the vast majority of Americans to make the choice to retire, and to live in dignity and with peace of mind in their retirement,” said Carper, in a speech delivered at the Academy of Lifelong Learning in Wilmington. “We should pass the system on as good and as strong as we found it.” Carper, who has been named a co-chair of a Senate Democratic working group charged with finding ways to encourage greater savings and investment for retirement on the part of younger workers, said that while Social Security is not in a “crisis,” there are two problems looming in the future that make it necessary for Congress to take action. The first is the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation, which will put increasing pressure on Social Security. The second is that the federal government will soon have to pay back trillions of dollars borrowed from the trust fund over the years in order to finance federal spending. With that in mind, Carper outlined three steps for Social Security reform: 1) The president and Congress should promise to pay back all the money borrowed from the Trust Fund. 2) The president and Congress should create a bipartisan commission to “take the politics” out of Social Security reform. 3) In addition to strengthening Social Security, Congress and the president should provide new savings opportunities for younger workers, so that they can build some personal wealth that can be used to supplement their Social Security and do better for themselves in retirement. Carper said the partisan climate in Washington and the negative reaction to President Bush’s still-ambiguous proposal to partially privatize Social Security will make it virtually impossible to enact meaningful Social Security reform this year unless “politics are taken out of the issue.” Carper suggested that Congress take a play from the book of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan, who in 1983 created a bipartisan commission to look into restructuring Social Security. Carper said the only way Congress and the president will be able to come up with a workable and sellable plan is to get behind a new, truly bipartisan commission that could recommend ways to keep the Social Security system solvent, while increasing the rate-of-return for younger workers. Carper criticized President Bush for looking to pressure Democrats into supporting a plan he has yet to detail, saying instead that he should be engaging Democrats to come up with a bipartisan compromise. “The president believes that if he campaigns hard enough in states where he won in 2004, he can scare enough Democrats in those states into going a long with him,” said Carper. “That’s the wrong way to go, and he’d be wise to talk and listen to Democrats before he goes on the campaign trail.” Carper said he’s keeping an “open mind” when it comes to the creation of personal accounts, particularly if they are used to increase savings for workers. However, he said he would NOT support a plan to create private accounts if it increased the federal deficit or cut benefits for seniors, as the president’s plan is rumored to do. “I believe it is morally irresponsible to pay for the creation of private accounts by cutting Social Security benefits for poor or even middle-class retirees who are living on fixed incomes,” said Carper. “I also believe it is fiscally irresponsible to pay for private accounts by adding trillions of dollars to the already obscene amounts of debt that we are piling on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”