Tending Social Security

Article excerpt

President Clinton last week scheduled the first of four regional forums on overhauling the Social Security system. It is set for April 7 in Kansas City. And he will join in a teleconference on the subject March 21 sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust.

This presidential attention should kick off a more intense national debate on what changes to make in the system to accommodate the baby-boom generation as its numerous members start retiring about 2008.

In his State of the Union message, Mr. Clinton promised to convene in a year the leaders of Congress "to craft historic, bipartisan legislation to achieve ... a Social Security system that is strong in the 21st century." In the meantime, Clinton said, "every penny" of Federal budget surpluses should go to bolstering the system. "Social Security first," he said. Putting aside surpluses sounds like a good idea to us. If the money is used to redeem federal debt, it will shrink the 14 percent proportion of federal revenues now going to service the $3.8 trillion national debt. This it would keep down the tax burden in the next decades as the number of retirees drawing on Social Security grows rapidly. Gene Sperling, director of Clinton's National Economic Council, says the debt-redemption approach would be acceptable for the next year or two while reform is underway. Clinton's timing seems right too. No great rush on reform is required. If left untouched, the system will pay full benefits for the next 35 years There is no immediate financing crisis. But it would be helpful to those planning for retirement to know the terrain ahead so they can adjust their financial course. Whatever is done, care must be taken not to make the retirement system risky. It provides benefits to 44 million Americans today. Most working Americans count on Social Security payments as part (or all) of their income in their senior years. …