Consensus Shifting on Social Security

By Lambro, Donald | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Consensus Shifting on Social Security


Lambro, Donald, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Proponents of changing Social Security to let workers invest in their own personal retirement plans say that mounting public support represents a historic shift that could dominate the next two elections.

Citizen forums to promote discussion and debate about changing the system have begun taking place around the country in what is to be a yearlong process leading to a White House summit in December. Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, has just introduced a bill to begin privatizing the system.

Even the powerful American Association of Retired Persons, which sees itself as the national guardian of the centerpiece of the New Deal, says it is keeping an open mind to "all reform options," including Mr. Gramm's.

"I think all the political momentum is with the privatization movement right now, and the advocates of the status quo are on the defensive," said Steven Moore, chief economic analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.

"Maybe the world is moving in our direction," Mr. Moore said.

Most polls now show that a majority of Americans want to change the system to let them put some or all of their payroll taxes into their own retirement plans.

"The electorate at large has made a decision that they want to see the personalization of Social Security where they own their own plans. And now the political culture is catching up to the curve," said Bill Dal Col, political adviser to Steve Forbes, who promoted the idea in his 1996 presidential bid.

"Clearly, this is an issue, if handled properly, that has the potential to be one of the dominating issues of the coming elections," he said.

The speed with which the issue seems to be moving has surprised many policy experts, even those who have been promoting the idea for years. "It is really astonishing how fast this seems to be catching on," said Heritage Foundation economist William Beach.

The ice was really broken this month when New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, introduced his own plan to save the system from bankruptcy, including a provision to permit workers to open personal savings accounts financed by 2 percent of their total pay. …

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