Frank Luntz Republican Playbook -- Searchable Text-Version: PART VII "SOCIAL SECURITY = RETIREMENT SECURITY" (Part a)
In the seventh installment of the text version of the Luntz Republican playbook, Frank invests 31 pages of prime space teaching the proper way to reshape the public's perception of Social Security -- taking particular aim at the elderly’s current propensity to separate that nasty, ever-so-hated 'government' from their beloved Social Security. To gain favor for Republican's Social Security dismantlement, says Luntz, the two must become synonymous.
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SOCIAL SECURITY = RETIREMENT SECURITY
THE SOCIAL SECURITY 10--STEP LANGUAGE LADDER
IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE IN THIS CHAPTER, READ THIS. Remember: when we are talking about Social Security, we are really talking about retirement security.
1. It is a fundamental principle that “Americans have a right to a safe, secure retirement.”
2. Our current and near retirees deserve the “peace of mind” of knowing they will get full benefits for their entire retirement.
3. To achieve “generation fairness,” we have a responsibility to save Social Security RIGHT NOW so that our children and generations to come receive the same benefits we have enjoyed.
4. It would be easier to turn away and leave the tough decisions to others down the road. But we do things in life not because they are easy but because they are necessary — no matter bow hard they are. And delay just makes the solution more difficult and costly.
5. Social Security is a financially broken system; it will start going bankrupt in 13 years and will be completely bankrupt in a matter of decades. For the tens of millions of Americans who depend on Social Security, this is simply unacceptable.
6. Washington has done a terrible job managing the Social Security Trust Fund. A 1.6% return on your Social Security dollars is unacceptable. It’s time to give the American people a say in how THEIR money is invested and the opportunity to do better.
7. Improving our Social Security system CANNOT be a partisan issue. We must all work together and put the partisan bickering behind us.
8. Remember, it’s YOUR money. It’s YOUR future. It’s YOUR life.
9. You should have the right, if you wish, to invest YOUR Social Security taxes in safe, diversified funds like a thrift savings plan because the return has been proven to be better than with any government fund.
10. I ask you to focus on the facts, study the issue, and then make up your own mind. When it comes to financial literacy and Social Security, the more you know, the better off we’ll be.
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Those who define the issue will determine the outcome.
This chapter is unlike any language text I have ever written because Social Security is unlike any other government program. Sure, you will find the traditional “words that work” boxes sprinkled throughout the document and handy helpful hints about what phrases to emphasize and language to avoid. But this is a much more conversational document because Social Security is so personal and so much a part of the American psyche that it simply can’t be dealt with in traditional political manner. It is not enough to say the right words. You need to feel it as well.
Do not underestimate the personal bond between the American people and their Social Security check. As a Republican talking about “strengthening Social Security” (which is better than promoting “Social Security reform”), you should emphasize a commitment to maintaining the promises we have made to protect and care for current recipients, while strengthening the long--term health of system in order to guarantee benefits for future retirees.
But effective communication of retirement security in general and Social Security in particular will come up short if you cannot convince Americans that they can and should invest in their future. It is amazing to me just how few Republicans have as their core message a truism as sure as night follows day:
THE FORGOTTEN MESSAGE OF SOCIAL SECURITY
“It’s YOUR money. YOU earned it. YOU sacrificed for it. The government TOOK it from you. Now it’s YOUR chance to take control of YOUR retirement. Remember, it’s YOUR future. It’s YOUR life. And from now on, it should be YOUR Social Security.”
President Bush deserves considerable credit for his bold proposals for Social: Security reform during the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaign. His approach to Social Security is the kind of leadership the American people are seeking. It is a perfect example of straight talk, putting people before politics. He has even successfully injected a moral component into what was once only an entitlement issue.
True, Democratic talking points insist that Social Security is only a small problem that does not need to be addressed now. They could not be more wrong, and the American people know it. But 76% of Americans believe that Social Security is either “in crisis and must be solved now” or “a challenge that must be solved very soon.” Only 19% put it off as “a problem that eventually should be solved.” Never in modern history have the Democrats been so badly misguided and so off on the wrong side of history.
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Still they’ve got their vocabulary well prepared, and they are looking to use Social Security to replicate the success they had with Medicare in the mid--1990s. Expect to hear the word “privatize” over and over and over again. Let them use it, but not you.
SURVIVING SOCIAL SECURITY
“DUMP the word “privatize” from your lexicon forever, but always link reform options to the success of programs such as The Federal Thrift Savings Plan, IRAs and 401(K) plans.”
Social Security is consistently a high priority for voters ---- and not only among seniors. The retired and the soon--to--be retired know they’ve been promised something and they demand to get it. Those in “mid--life” know they are paying into a program that eats up a significant portion of their paychecks, and they aren’t so certain they will get their money’s worth. And those in their twenties and thirties are just as cynical, if not more.
In fact, as it now stands, 48% of Americans believe that people retiring before they do will benefit the most from Social Security, while only 17% believe that they personally will benefit the most. That’s why it is so important to replace the word “privatize” with the word “personalize.” You’re on their side, fighting on their behalf to help them get control of their retirement security.
Remember, this is not just about Social Security. This is about retirement security — and here you have the advantage:
— In principle, Americans agree with you that the current system is unsustainable;
— In principle, Americans want to control their retirement savings;
— In principle, Americans support your idea of personal retirement accounts.
But voters continue to trust the Democratic Party to handle Social Security, because they think Republicans lack the compassion and concern to find an equitable solution that benefits everyone.
You need to SHOW voters that you are concerned -- and not just about the Social Security system as a whole, but about THEIR retirement security. And the best way to communicate your concern is to HUMANIZE the problem. The problem with Social Security is not the trillions of dollars in revenue shortfalls. The problem is not worker--to--retiree ratios. The problem is whether Social Security will be there when YOU need it
Illustrate bow the dismal facts leading up to the problem lead to one common sense solution. Talk to voters about how personal retirement accounts will improve THEIR retirement security. Talk about how personal accounts will give THEM a sense of ownership, control and freedom. And don’t forget the essential rhetorical questions.
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Everything depends on asking the right questions:
— “Who do you trust more?”
— “Who can help you earn more?”
— “Who can deliver more?”
— “Don’t you deserve more?”
— “Can’t we do it better?”
DICK CHENEY WORDS THAT WORK
The Social Security system is in trouble. It’s been a fantastic program. It’s been there for 65 years. It has provided benefits for senior citizens over that period —for my parents. And it means a great deal to millions of Americans. I want to make absolutely certain that the first thing we do is guarantee the continuation of those benefits and keep those promises that were made.
But I have two daughters, and they seriously question whether or not there will be any system left for them. And that’s because of the demographics at work.
We know how many people are going to reach retirement age. We know when that Baby Boom generation is coming along. We know its going to drive .the system into bankruptcy unless we reform it.
The reform we will offer will allow our young people to begin to take a portion of the payroll tax, two percent of it, and invest it in a personal retirement account. It gives them a stake in the Social Security system. It becomes their property. They own and they can pa on to their kids if they want.
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THE DEATH OF “RETIREMENT” AS WE KNOW IT
“The choices seniors make in retirement should not be limited by arbitrary dates or obsolete stereotypes. Because the nature of retirement is changing, the needs of retirement are changing as well. Older Americans now require a retirement nest egg large enough for decades of enjoyment and ambition. As medicine increases the length of life, adequate savings must increase the options we have on longer lives.”
-- President George W. Bush
“Retirement,” as such, no longer exists. The chapter in life once universally understood as the end of work and the terminal winding down now means countless different things to different people.. The so--called “Golden Years” are now “Working Years,” as almost half of all Americans (49 percent) plan to continue working in some capacity after age 65, and nearly one in three (29 percent) will still be at work after age 70, health permitting.
Some still aspire to a “traditional” retirement, but many of them doubt they will ever reach it Others defme “retirement” as nothing more than a chance to change jobs or careers. They will continue to work, by choice or necessity, until the day their health gives out And there are those, too, who love what they do and wouldn’t dream of giving it up for the world.
To some extent, the re--defining of retirement is a recent development In an era of rising expectations and expanding stock portfolios, consider the following polling data from the past few years:
* Over the past two years alone, more than 20 percent of all workers and 35 percent of all adults aged 50 to 64 have acknowledged postponing their anticipated retirement.
* Half of all Americans aged 30 to 69 are now more concerned about protecting their retirement nest egg than about strengthening Social Security.
American attitudes and expectations about “retirement” challenge many of the conventional myths. Modern science, medicine and technology have opened up vistas for all of us that only the most wild--eyed poet ever dreamed of in days gone by. They have given us remarkable new choices, options, possibilities. Social Security must be a system that reflects these new possibilities.
And that’s why Social Security must be a system that keeps pace with American life.
In this period of economic instability, “financial security” has clearly become a higher priority than “financial freedom.” Americans are searching for assurances that their investments and their retirement nest eggs are safe and secure ---- and they are increasingly turning to professionals to give them help and guidance.
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There is an insatiable desire for information and education about retirement financing — even among those more than a decade away from anticipated retirement Everyone agrees that when it comes to achieving financial security in retirement, Americans are uninformed, misinformed or both, but the newfound desire to learn from the experts is almost universal, Americans are asking a lot of questions and they demand the right to receive the correct answers.
* By a 2 to 1 margin, Americans still want to keep Washington’s regulatory hands off their accounts and would prefer education and information to any further government restrictions.
The pre--retirement population craves financial retirement education and information without regulation and limitation.
People’s assumptions about how soon they will actually begin their retirement are changing as well. Not only has the economic turmoil of the past few years changed Americans’ financial positions and depleted their nest eggs, but it has also led an incredible 28 percent of us to postpone the day we expect to retire.
When it finally does come, Americans nevertheless look forward to enjoying long retirements. Forty--six percent (46 percent) expect their retirement to last at least 20 years — and 26 percent of them think it will last for at least 25 years or more. In fact, the average expected length of retirement is just shy of that, at 24 years. That’s a long time to live off of investment income or the wages of a lesser paying job than they bad in the prime of their careers, Certainly nothing could be further from the situation when Social Security was created in the I 930s … in those days, most Americans didn’t even live long enough to qualify for benefits.
Not surprisingly, Baby Boomers still, see a financial crisis looming for everyone in their generation, even though a majority feels that they themselves will escape it. In fact, a majority of Americans fear for others but not for themselves. A remarkable 79 percent of Americans expect future retirees to face a personal financial crisis once they retire, but only 43 percent think they themselves will experience that crisis.
PRIORITIES OF THE NEW, RETIREMENT
In this time of economic uncertainty, President Bush has made it a priority to restore both economic security and retirement security to all working Americans. The objective of the Bush administration over the next four years is to provide options, not restrictions, in order to allow individuals to better manage their own retirement security.
Americans reject the notion that Washington should have complete dominion over how individuals save or invest their retirement savings. People want a sense of control over their 401(k) plans, their pensions, and their other retirement vehicles -- and Washington should be careful not to limit, restrict or regulate anyone’s retirement nest egg in a way that seems to arbitrary. Americans, particularly seniors and. near--seniors certainly want the government to stop Americans (and particularly their children) from making foolish investments, but in the end, they personally would like to have an element of control over their savings.
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* 60 percent of Americans say they should have complete control over their 401(k) plans, even if their decision could harm them financially.
* A mere 25 percent say there should be laws to prevent people from putting too much of any one stock or investment into their 401(k). Of course, this number would likely change if we added a caveat about government prevention of overly foolish investments.
People are saying loudly and clearly that the way to protect their nest eggs is NOT for the government to impose new rules and regulations that limit their choices, but rather to close the “advice gap” and make it possible for all workers to receive sound investment advice. Here’s what they tell us:
* Americans say that ‘financial security” is more important to them than “financial freedom” by more than 3 to 1 (66 percent versus 20 percent). This preference for financial security holds true across all demographic subgroups.
* Americans are just as concerned about protecting their personal retirement nest eggs as they are about strengthening the Social Security system. 49 percent say strengthening Social Security is a bigger priority to them, while a statistically equal 47 percent make the protection of their own nest egg the higher priority.
THE PERFECT STATEMENT
Under the current system, people who are just entering the work force today will earn almost no interest on the money they put in over their lifetimes. That’s right, almost no interest. And even workers in their forties will receive a paltry two percent return on their Social Security benefits. That’s less than the inflation rate.
Think about that. If your financial advisor earned you zero money on your investment, you would fire him. If you had a stock with no growth, you would sell it. But that is all Washington offers. This Social Security system is antiquated and ineffective. We can do better. Our nation’s workers deserve better.
I’m hopeful that we can sit down in a bipartisan way and say NO to benefit cuts, NO to future tax increases and YES to seniors who want their benefits protected, YES to pre--retirees who want the program guaranteed, YES to the opportunity for younger workers to put some money aside, so that money will grow over time and help give them a better retirement in the future.
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THE LEXICON OF RETIREMENT SECURITY
The changing definition of retirement has led to a change in financial priorities leading up to retirement. You will see the following sentence repeated again and again and again because it cannot be repeated enough:
This is not just a debate about Social Security. It is also a debate about RETIREMENT security.
From today forward, we should be talking about “retirement security,” in helping all Americans increase their wealth and truly improve their retirement years. Through improving our Social Security system, we can work together to make retirement security DEFINE Social Security.
Even so, from the outset, your plan must address the fear that retired Americans have about any change to Social Security. Many elderly people fear that Social Security reform could jeopardize their monthly checks, and pre--retirees (those aged 55 to. 64) worry that the reformed system might not provide the benefits they have been expecting all of their working lives.
WORDS THAT WORK
In the end it is your money. You paid it, you’ve earned it, and it comes out of your paycheck. Why can’t you get it back? Why can’t it be invested in a way that you feel secure so that when it is time for you to retire, you don’t have to hope that the government still has it, you know that you still have it. It is still your money.
-- Congressman Brady
The following key findings from our research (both qualitative and quantitative) show you how to do this:
1) Get your FACTS straight. You don’t need to marshal every available fact and figure on Social Security to win the support of your audience. But do explain why we are where we are today. As it now stands, Republicans lack factual discipline. Figures, dates, and even analogies are woefully all over the place. It is time to focus the party on four specific facts. If the following four facts are cited consistently, they will be taken on by the American people and work in your favor.
There are four key facts, straight from the Social Security trustees, Republican and Democrats alike, which are crucial to any discussion advocating a need to modernize Social Security. Your audience must know if they are to understand that Social Security is a broken system and it is morally imperative we fix it NOW.
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REMEMBER: Social Security was built for a different America. As a nation, we have grown stronger, and so we need a Social Security system that keeps pace with us. Critics will argue that we are planning to tinker with a system that has worked well for decades. They will say it is not broken, so why fix it?
There are four straightforward facts
* First, when Social Security was first created, men made up the vast majority of the workforce and had a life expectancy not much more than 60 years. Today, in a majority of households, both men and women are working, and our life expectancy has risen more than 10 years. We are living longer, healthier, more productive lives…and that trend is going to accelerate as we continue to lead the world in medical breakthroughs. But while that is great for us here today, that’s not great for an antiquated Social Security system.
* Second, it is a fact that in the 1950s Social Security had about 16 workers paid in for every person drawing out. Today, the ratio is just 3 to 1, and when our kids retire, it will be down to two workers for each beneficiary. The burden we will be placing on the workforce is unimaginable, and it’s getting worse. Think your taxes are too high now? Imagine what they will be in the future if we don’t make the necessary changes in the present.
* Third, it is a fact that the expansive Baby Boom generation continues to age ---- and the oldest of them turn 60 next year. Because of that, the number of workers in America has increased since the 1950s, but the number of retirees has increased much faster.
* And fourth, it is a fact that the return on your Social Security dollars is a paltry two percent (actually 1.6%). That’s it – two percent. That’s not even more than • inflation! That’s not enough to retire with a nest egg. That’s not enough to retire with a sense of security. To me, depending on a two--percent rate of return over the lifetime of paying into Social Security is more of a risk than trying an alternative approach.
When Americans are offered a number of strong reasons to “maintain” Social Security, by far the number one reason they choose is that they have “paid into the system and therefore have a right to that money.” Given an answer like that, you cannot touch Social Security without expecting a passionate response.
That’s also why you have to remind people: “It’s your money.” Any suggestion of changing Social Security must include a reference to protecting the individual worker’s investment in the program. If Americans think you want to protect and enhance their retirement security, they’ll back you. If they think you want to reduce their benefits — for ANY reason — they’ll oppose you.
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2) Make sure your audience knows and believes their Social Security contributions are THEIR MONEY, and they have a basic right to expect it back when they retire. Many Americans, particularly those just entering the workforce, have little faith that they will ever see their Social Security contributions again. They think of it as yet another tax. In order to convince this group that personal retirement accounts are their best option, they need to relearn what Social Security means. They need to know that Social Security SHOULD ---- and CAN ---- mean retirement security.
The majority of individuals in older generations think of Social Security as part of the American dream. Our younger generations need to believe this, too. When Americans believe Social Security contributions are their own, they will be much more willing, and even excited, to get more for their contributions.
WORDS THAT WORK
That’s such a misconception out there in the minds of the American taxpayer. The money that goes into Social Security does not belong to the federal government. It comes from the individuals themselves or a combination of the individual employees and their employers. It’s their money. It belongs to the employees, the workers. They’re the ones that deserve to determine how this money is going to be invested in safe and sound investments for the long term so that they can have the assurance that their retirement benefits will be there.
-- Senator Saxby Chambliss
Again, it is important to make your argument PRACTICAL, especially with younger individuals. Talk about the impact on their day--to--clay life of paying into the Social Security system.
WORDS THAT WORK
If you weren’t required to give it to government, you’d maybe spend it on your child, maybe spend it on your spouse, maybe spend it on yourself, or maybe even invest it. So in fact, it is your money. The question is, “What’s the best way to invest your money for your future?” Social Security has got to be a part of it because we have made a pact with generations in this country and so we have to continue that. And so the question is, is that the best way to provide the future for the younger generation?
-- Congressman Dan Lungren
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I want you to see as many examples of the ownership issue as possible because this is SUCH a critical component of any Social Security communication. Hammer away at it until it is an absolute fact in their minds!
WORDS THAT WORK
Social Security is a basic right that the American worker has paid for. They paid money in and they expect a decent retirement and expect it to be there when they need it.
It’s their money but the problem is the federal government has spent it. Now we need a tangible asset alongside Social Security so people can point to it and say “that’s MINE, and if I don’t live to collect my Social Security that’s inheritable wealth”. It’s something that they can depend upon in their old age.
-- Congressman Clay Shaw
Again, PRACTICAL facts are extremely effective to your audience. OBTUSE facts, of course, are not Social Security in this light is a difficult subject because there are many obscure facts and figures. Stay Away From Them!!!
THE WRONG ANSWER!
The Social Security system is a FICA tax system, it’s a payroll tax so it’s money that comes out of your paycheck. If you’re a worker out there in America today you’re told you have to pay 6.2% whether you’re making $10 an hour or $100,000 a year, plus your employer has to pay 6.2%, which really comes out of your salary so 12.4% of your wages everyday are taken out for your retirement. Shouldn’t you be able to have something to say about where that goes?
If you are going to use facts, stick to the basics, and contextualize each fact with a practical, down to earth example. To dwell too long in numbers will ultimately lose the interest and passion of the audience, and sink your argument
3) Everyone is eager for Social Security reform —but seniors are wary. To seniors, Social Security is as American as apple pie. The mere mention of even tinkering with the system threatens them. They become much more open to reform though when you talk about its impact on their children and grandchildren. And it doesn’t hurt to emphasize that it will not impact their benefits.
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Let’s face it — seniors love to talk about their kids and grandkids, so talk about them. Tell them about the opportunity America has to insure their retirement security. This point, though simple, is extraordinarily powerful, ESPECIALLY with older women. It is this message point that serves as the most efficient opening to having an honest dialogue with seniors about reform. It is the ONLY way that you can sell them on this proposal.
Furthermore, it is absolutely essential to constantly reassure seniors that you would never, never, NEVER touch their benefits. Stress your respect and gratitude for their years of hard work. Affirm that they deserve guaranteed benefits. Emphasize that personal retirement accounts wilt be strictly voluntary and will have NO effects on their current benefits.
4) Younger generations need to know how personal retirement accounts would work. While the generation about to enter retirement wants to know that their pension will be there, the younger and middle--aged audience must know the practicalities of a personal retirement account, and be assuaged that this new system would not be too cumbersome or confusing.
WORDS THAT WORK
Every two weeks, the same amount will be taken from your paycheck as it is now. But instead of going to the government, the money will go directly to a personal retirement security account with your name on it. You will not he allowed to touch the money. Just as with an IRA, you will not be able to cash out until your retirement.
The bottom line: older generations need to know their benefits are secure, while the younger generations need to know how the new plan will work to their benefit
5) Current and near retirees must KNOW their benefits are secure. Most Americans, including seniors, are unaware that Social Security is not currently guaranteed. You can imagine the outrage if seniors and pre--retirees were to he told they had no ownership rights to their benefits. You must reassure them their benefits will be there when they retire, and MOST IMPORTANTLY will not be reduced by this proposal.
This sort of guarantee should NOT be in the form of a written statement or contract, but should be implied in the words you communicate to your audience.
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WORDS THAT WORK
As Members of Congress, we have a duty to our seniors to ensure that their retirement security will not be jeopardized. At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the overall goal of reforming the Social Security program so that today’s workers will have the retirement that they deserve as well.
-- Congressman Walter Jones
6) Use personal examples to illustrate your message more effectively. By now, this should be old hat, but Americans respond much more effectively to a speaker to whom can relate: when they see them as him or her as a person who is going through the same challenges that they are.
WORDS THAT WORK
My father has been self--employed his whole life. I was self--employed in the private sector before I was In Congress. When you’re self--employed you know it more keenly than if you worked for someone else.
So that’s one thing the people need to realize. It’s not the government’s money. It’s your money. The government is taking it, now the question is “are you going to make the government accountable to give it back to you in better standing then you gave it to them or worse?”
-- Congressman Zach Wanimp
7) Talk about GENERATIONAL FAIRNESS, but do NOT engage in generational warfare. Expectations of bankruptcy alone will not lead young adults to call for reforms in programs like Social Security and Medicare. Programs that benefit seniors have the full support of their children and grandchildren (in fact, if these kids had the opportunity, they would actually increase Social Security and Medicare payouts). Therefore, if Social Security reform is seen as an attack on Social Security (as the AARP will obviously suggest), you will lose.
Unfortunately, seniors don’t feel the same way about their children and grandchildren. In fact; the older people are, the less likely they are to believe that their kids “will be facing a financial crisis and significantly higher taxes because of current and future government spending on older generations.
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Seniors are also least likely of any age group to believe that parents have a greater obligation “to ensure that their children have the same opportunities that they had” and most likely to believe that children have a greater obligation “to see that their parents have a comfortable retirement.” The myth that young people are selfish and seniors are compassionate is just that ---- a myth.
WORDS THAT WORK
The net result is that we will guarantee the retirement, not only for our parents, and the baby--boomers, but also more importantly for our kids. I think for too long we have thought about this as a them versus us kind of a debate. Ultimately we’re all in the same boat, and you can’t sink half of one of these boats. We need to come up with a system that’s fair to everybody. And I think we can.
-- Congressman Gil Gutknecht
Right now, young people don’t think it is a fair system. They are cynical about their chances of receiving the benefits that they have paid for. On the one hand, the youngest adults ---- those who will pay the most in taxes but eventually receive the least in benefits ---- believe they will be stuck with higher taxes and a dreadful financial situation because the government is spending THEIR money on today’s old folks, yet they somehow think they will escape the crisis personally. On the other hand, they think their grandparents are getting a raw deal from the government and that they should actually be receiving even more in benefits.
Why the contradiction? Because young voters have still not learned that Washington’s spending habits and the taxes they personally pay are directly related. Until these blessed twenty--somethings get older, wiser and link spending and taxes, forget about any generational uprising.
8) Financial literacy brings security, accountability, and empowerment to the American people. The public needs to be educated on financial literacy. The American people need to know there are other financial options than simply letting Washington handle their Social Security contributions. Through financial literacy, many of the public’s fears towards the idea of personal Social Security accounts will wash away, and the public will be empowered. In so doing, Americans will come to the conclusion that personal retirement accounts are in their best interest, and choose this as the best Social Security policy. The more Americans know about the financial options there are out there, the more they want to explore in an effort to get more bang for their buck.
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But financial literacy means much more. It means giving Americans the reassurance and comfort of knowing that they will be educated and aided in making the right investment choices. It is far too easy to only focus on the “trees” of this debate at the neglect of the “forest.” In this case, the forest is American financial literacy, providing Americans with the tools, choices, and education to make informed decisions about their retirement security.
WORDS THAT WORK
Q: You are giving Wall Street the opportunity to make literally billions of dollars off of senior citizens and they don’t need the money, senior citizens do.
A: Wall Street is not the argument; the argument is how do we want people to lead their lives in their senior years? Investment is one of the most important things we can teach our children. We have to talk about financial literacy as well. In many cases this is an educational issue as well as a Social Security issue.
We need to make sure that wrong decisions aren’t made and therefore, financial literacy must be a part of any kind of a discussion that comes with changing Social Security.
---- Congressman Denny Rehberg
* THE PERFECT SOUNDBITE *
THIS IS NOT ABOUT GETTING YOUR MONEY INTO WALL STREET. THIS IS ABOUT GETTING YOUR MONEY OUT OF WASHINGTON.
In letting your audience know the facts, they will see your plan as exactly what it is: a common sense solution. Your audience will be EMPOWERED to see your plan as the right course of action; as a course of action they WANT to pursue, without apprehension.
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SAVING SOCIAL SECURITY:
A large percentage of Americans believe Social Security needs major reform or a complete overhaul. Few (seven percent) believe the system is “financially secure” as it now stands, while 71 percent think it needs a major retooling. Age is again the greatest divider of opinion. Everyone is anxious for Social Security reform -- except seniors.
From the facts about the Social Security system as it stands today, we can conclude only one common sense, meaningful solution: personal retirement accounts. While this is a communication minefield, you can win this one. By more than a three to one margin, (66 percent to 21 percent), Americans believe they could make more money investing themselves than what they get from Social Security. More importantly, by more than an incredible four to one margin (76 percent to 18 percent), Americans believe the private sector can deliver more money than Social Security.
Let the other side argue that the American public is stupid. Be on the side of the clear majority of the American people. Some have argued that many workers are ill--prepared to have a greater say in the investment of their Social Security dollars. Americans, however, do not believe that to be true. Eighty--five percent (85%) say they are confident in their ability to manage their own retirement accounts, and more than half (54 percent) believe politicians underestimate the public’s ability to manage individual accounts.
This must be brought into line with our previous point regarding financial literacy. In order for the public to be properly equipped to manage a personal retirement account financial literacy needs to come into play. In discussing the common American’s ability to manage a personal retirement account, emphasize how you are committed to making financial education and access to information a key part of this larger effort.
People have little confidence in Wall Street these days, but even LESS confidence in Washington. Many critics of personal Social Security accounts say that contributions will go into the hands of greedy Wall Street fat cats. An extremely effective response to this argument is to state that right now, our benefits are being controlled by Washington bureaucrats, and it boils down to who you think is better handling YOUR money,
Washington or the American people? The latter will always be overwhelmingly chosen. In addition:
* The popularity of IRAs and 401(K) plans is evident in the overwhelming support for converting Social Security to a personal pension system similar to individual retirement accounts. Every income group -- poor, middle-class and wealthy -- supports this proposal.
* On the negative side, the idea of a tax increase divides the nation: 48% oppose increasing payroll taxes two percent now to prevent a cut in Social Security benefits in a few years, while 47% support the idea.
When the question is put in the context of preventing Social Security bankruptcy, the results are exactly the same.
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Three operative phrases placed in any statement regarding Social Security and Congress will earn it overwhelming support:
1) “Non--partisan” is absolutely essential in the Social Security debate. You will not make any progress unless Republicans and Democrats are lined up two--by--two and side--by--side. Insisting on a bipartisan solution is an essential component of your communication efforts.
2) The public wants “experts,” not Members of Congress, dealing with Social Security. Congress does not have a great degree of credibility today in regard to Medicare or Social Security. In fact when we asked whether Members of Congress should sit on such a panel, just 26 percent said yes. Even Republicans want Congress away from the process.
3) Fixing Social Security “once and for all” will be the driving force behind any reform effort. The public wants a solution “that will last forever,” not a short--term fix.
In talking about personalizing Social Security, many traps await you. It is far too easy to fall into them. The above recommendations are good and can get you through some of your simpler communications challenges, but we have expanded upon these below in a way that fully equips you for the difficulties ahead.
1) Americans have little faith or trust in Washington’s fiscal management abilities. Personal economic fear for the future won’t do by itself. It’s just not enough to convince a majority of Americans that we need to reform the Social Security system. You must also address their anger and distrust toward Washington. (Americans may approve of Washington’s handling of the war on terrorism, but they are hardly confident in politicians’ ability to protect and manage their retirement funds.) Ask again and again and again: Do you trust WASHINGTON to manage YOUR retirement funds, or is it possible that you or your advisor could do a better job?
WORDS THAT WORK
Imagine how much better off you would be in your retirement years if Washington would let you invest a small percentage of your Social Security contributions? in a personal retirement account that YOU controlled. The government wouldn’t be able to spend your retirement nest egg because YOU would be in charge. After all, it’s your money.
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2) Talk about the RESPONSIBILITY of a good RATE OF RETURN. This is a simple, but powerful concept. A good rate of return can be thought of as a responsible rate of return if it is enough to provide security to the American people. The 2% return that Social Security currently yields is obviously not responsible. In fact, it is frighteningly paltry. TWO percent is less than the inflation rate. Just putting St in the bank in a long-- term account and letting it sit there for a decade or more would have yielded a higher return. The American people deserve the right to do better.
During the last 65 years, Social Security has been a responsible program, providing its retirees with a return on their contributions that provided responsibility. Because of the dramatic shift in demographics that is occurring (44 workers to I retiree vs. 2 workers to 1 retiree), the return is being drastically compromised. It is our responsibility to provide future generations with a rate of return that matches the return our current and previous generations received from their Social Security.
To fix this, we need to look at retirement strategies that are tested and are proven to work, such as 401(k)s, IRAs and Thrift Savings Plans. This gives us a perfect example of the type of responsible rate of return America should expect from Social Security.
And remember this IMPORTANT FACT: we currently are being FORCED into accepting today’s Social Security as our retirement security. WE HAVE NO OTHER OPTION. Personal retirement accounts will be just that: an option for the American people. Your audience needs to know they are not being forced to put their money into the hands of Wall Street Fat Cats. In fact, just the opposite: we are taking their money out of the hands of Washington Bureaucrats and giving it back to them to decide how they want to invest it.
It is always important when discussing this to BE SPECIFIC. Real examples always help solidify and clarify your argument. Always when numbers are involved, your argument needs to be PRACTICAL as opposed to THEORETICAL.
* The personal accounts that will be offered will be diversified, employing a variety of financial products including bonds, treasury bills, and stocks. This diversity is the strategy that has been used successfully by millions of Americans in the form of IRAs and 401(k)s.
SHORT & SIMPLE WORDS THAT WORK
People put their money into 401Ks and IRAs everyday. They’re safe, they’re reasonable, and they have a much better rate of return than the money that we’re forcing people to put into their Social Security accounts now. 85/60
-- Congressman Mike Ferguson
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There is, however, a difficulty in talking too much about the stock market. The American people are sensitive to the ups and downs of the stock market. By a slim margin, Americans are more likely to characterize the stock market as generally VOLATILE (47%) rather than stable (44%). That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Democrats’ communication strategy of portraying this move as a big gamble does not hold with most Americans. By a slightly larger margin than the previous question, Americans look upon buying stocks more as investing (5 1%) than gambling (45%). However, women, especially those with no investment experience are more likely to consider it a form of gambling.
In talking about the return of the stock market you CANNOT blindly advocate its stability. Instead, focus on other components of investment ---- CDs, bonds, T--bills. You must reassure Americans that investing in
American enterprise is better than investing in Washington.
3) Your audience needs to know their contributions are AT RISK AS WE SPEAK. As of now, the common perception people have of Social Security reform is that while the reform in question is desirable, it is risky. Of course, there are challenges, but your audience needs to know that there are MUCH LARGER risks in doing nothing.
These risks are larger not just monetarily, but because they are longer. We are in harm’s way the longer we do not act. There is a tidal wave of risk slowly approaching our shores, and so we have a responsibility to incur some short--term pain? to avert this disaster.
The status quo is risky precisely because of Washington’s handling of our Social Security Trust fund; they spent it all. The crisis that is headed our way is evidence enough that our current system has risks: BIG RISKS. We need a system that puts the money of American workers back in their hands.
It boils down to a choice: a long term, financially crippling Social Security system, or a vastly improved system with short term belt--tightening?. The choice becomes common sense.
4) For the people to trust Wall Street, Wall Street -- and Washington -- must be put in their place. “Wall Street” is America, and Washington will just spend it all. Amidst all the scandal and corruption within the Financial Services industry, it is important that Wall Street be seen as the driving force of the American economy, and as far removed from scandal as possible.
If you must address these scandals, then bring Washington into the mix, Make it a choice: Wall Street or Washington. Neither should control our money. We should make the choice ourselves. And any new system should enforce the principle of accountability.
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5) Personal retirement accounts will foster personal security. Financial markets have made America the most financially secure nation on the globe, yet tens of millions, of Americans have not had the opportunity to invest. Personal accounts present an enormous opportunity to spread financial independence to millions of Americans. Finally, Republicans have a retirement issue that specifically targets and benefits working class Americans.
WORDS THAT WORK
Opponents of personal accounts are denying the right of EVERY AMERICAN to grow their nest egg. They are denying every American the right to own and control his or her own Social Security savings. And that is denying every American the right of retirement security. After all, it’s your money.
And PLEASE remember that you are NEVER talking about privatizing Social Security, nor are you advocating INDIVIDUAL accounts. You are talking about creating PERSONAL retirement accounts. So far, there has been generally strict message discipline here, but every now and then I still catch members and staffers slip up. If you don’t believe me, let the numbers convince you:
* Personalizing Social Security has a 17% higher favorability rating than privatizing it. That is, 51% of Americans believe personalizing the program is a good idea, while only 3.4% believe privatizing is.
* 41% of Americans prefer a PERSONAL retirement account to an INDIVIDUAL retirement account.
If necessary do what I do, and institute a strict policy among your staff that anytime someone uses either “privatize” or “individual” in the context of Social Security they must pay you $50. It works.
Seniors trust newspapers more than television to deliver accurate and unbiased news. Since Social Security is primarily an older issue, you must make a special effort to ensure positive coverage of the Republican position in print as well as on the tube.
To seniors, Social Security is as American as apple pie. Even though they reluctantly acknowledge the necessity of reform to ensure the program’s longevity, all things considered, they would prefer the status quo to remain. As one senior offered: “Anything would be for the better if it would maintain Social Security the way it’s going now. But if you want to decrease the amount, that would not be good.”
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Seniors believe that younger generations may need retirement security even more than they did. But reform proposals of “less government involvement” and more “individual control” leave them shaking their heads, doubting the financial prudence of their own offspring.
While most seniors are highly skeptical about government (to the point of highly tuned sarcasm) older Americans have an abiding faith in Social Security. “I’m very grateful for having had Social Security,” said a woman at a focus group. “They’re [Social Security] gonna take care of you the rest of your life,” whispered another. They believe that the system has taken care of them and, as a result, they think future generations should want and deserve the same. In other words, Social Security may be collected by the government, administered by the government, and undermined because of the government ... but don’t tell that to America’s elderly. To America’s elderly, “Social Security” and “government” are completely unrelated.
What seniors hate about government is exactly what they love about Social Security, and it can be summarized in one word: SECURITY. Give seniors security and they will follow you anywhere.
FACE THE CHALLENGE
There is no question this reform, like any other reform, will come with its set of challenges; While the Democrats are factually off--base on when Social Security will become bankrupt if we continue our current system, they will enjoy a field day of outlining how expensive our reform is. This is a challenge, and this is what life is all about. The bottom line is: Social Security as it stands today IS SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE.
The Democrats will show that our reform comes at a high price (a trillion dollars or more). The perfect response is to show that yes, we know that, and look at how doing nothing is MUCH more expensive (11 trillion dollars). With the facts as clear as they are, we have a responsibility as stewards of the generations to come to face the music and end this crisis ---- before it grows too far out of control. We have the ability to prevent countless generations from ever having to worry about retirement security, yet it will come at a price in the form of short--term costs.
WORDS THAT WORK
It’s our opportunity and frankly, it’s our responsibility, to do the right thing for today’s generation — for our children have four little children at home. I want to make sure they have the same opportunities that my parents and grandparents had and it won’t happen unless we do the right thing now. We have a plan, a responsible plan, that won’t put their savings and their resources at risk but will be safe and valuable for them in the future.
-- Congressman Mike Ferguson
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Your audience needs to know this is not about partisan politics. This is about our responsibility to our children. This is about doing what’s right even if it’s difficult, because not doing anything is sheer negligence. Americans see the need to protect the next generation. The last thing they want to do is leave them in the cold.
* 43% of Americans believe that our children and our grandchildren should receive the highest consideration when debating Social Security reform proposals, before taxpayers (36%) and even before current Social Security recipients (16%).
Being responsible means thinking long--term and not about the next election. It means not just thinking about your own retirement security, but of the retirement security of many generations to come. We know Social Security works well now and will work well for the next few years, but this will not last long. Our job is to face the facts and do what we know is right.
WORDS THAT WORK
The problem that Congress has always had is planning for the next election instead of the next generation. We’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to have a long view as to where we want this country to be, not 5 or 10 years from now, but where are we going to be decades down the line. We have to start planning now and not leaving the problem for the next Congress.
-- Clay Shaw
Politicians from both sides of the aisle need to come together as a team if meaningful change is going to take place. When it comes to the retirement security of tens of millions of Americans, there are no Democrats or Republicans. There are only Americans.
The conclusion that we need to save Social Security is best when it comes from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. When put in the context of our own children, the conclusion becomes common sense. It becomes an issue of GENERATIONAL FAIRNESS. Our children deserve the type of security past and current generations receive. And we can achieve this WITHOUT compromising the benefits of current and near retirees. Let me repeat that: CURRENT AND NEAR RETIREES’ BENEFITS WILL NOT BE COMPROMISED. NOT AT ALL. If this is emphasized, those close or near retirement will not see this as a situation in which we are favoring our younger generations at the expense of our older. What we are doing is creating retirement security, like that which we ourselves enjoy, for our children and children’s children.
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ANSWERING THE TOUGHEST QUESTIONS ON SOCIAL SECURITY
Q1: Social Security has worked great for decades. Why change it?
A: Let me give you four facts that have convinced me that the status quo is unacceptable and that the modernization of Social Security is a moral imperative. First, when Social Security was first created, men made up the vast majority of the workforce and had a life expectancy not much more than 60 years. Today, in a majority of households, both men and women are working, and our life expectancy has risen more than 10 years. We are living longer, healthier, more productive lives...and that trend will likely accelerate as we continue to lead the world in medical breakthroughs. But while that is great fur us here today, that’s not great for an antiquated Social Security system.
Second, it is a fact that when Social Security was created, there were 41 workers for every retiree, and in the 1950s, about 16 workers paid in to Social Security for every person drawing out. Today, the ratio is just 3 to 1, and when our kids retire, it will be down to two workers for each beneficiary. The burden we will be placing on the workforce is unimaginable, and it’s getting worse. Think your taxes are too high now? Imagine what they will be in the future if we don’t make the necessary changes in the present.
Third, it is a fact that the expansive Baby Boom generation continues to age — and the oldest of them turn 60 next year. Because of that, the number of workers in America has increased since the l950s, but the number of retirees has increased much faster.
And fourth, it is a fact that the return on your Social Security dollars is a paltry two percent. That’s it — two percent. That’s not even more than inflation! That’s not enough to retire with a nest egg. That’s not enough to retire with a sense of security. To me, depending on a two--percent rate of return over the lifetime of paying into Social Security is more of a risk than trying an alternative approach.
Q2: The Social Security System is stronger than it has been in recent years. Back in 1997 the day when the trust fund would run out was 2029. Now it’s gone up 13 years to 2042, and if the economy continues to grow at the rate President Bush says it’s going to grow, it will be pushed even farther into the future. Why should we tinker with it now?
A: Right now we have a strong workforce because of our Baby Boomer generation has not yet retired, and it is this that will drastically change everything. Social. Security may be solvent now, and it may run a surplus for 13 more years…but what happens to the next generation of Americans? To do nothing would not be fair. it would not be responsible. It would not meet our obligation as the stewards not just of the past, but of the future. I do not intend to allow America’s next generation to inherit a broken system. We in Washington have an obligation not to think merely of the next election but to plan for the next generation.
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Q3: I think the Social Security system is fine and I don’t want to invest in a personal account. It seems to me you are forcing the American people to support Wall Street.
A: The investment options in each individual’s personal Social Security account is VOLUNTARY. And that’s what our new plan is all about: the freedom to do what you want to do with YOUR money. You probably think you own Social Security right now — but you don’t. If you pay into the system year after year but die before you retire, you can’t pass on your Social Security benefits to your spouse or your children. And if you think a two percent return on your Social Security is sufficient, you can’t change that.
American’s deserve the freedom to voluntarily save some of theft payroll taxes in a personal account for their retirement. At a two percent return, Washington has done a rotten job managing your Social Security savings. Just putting it in the bank in a long--term account and letting it sit there for a decade or more would have yielded a higher return. We think you can and should have the right to do better.
Let me say this again. YOUR Social Security belongs to YOU. It doesn’t belong to Washington. This is not about someone else’s retirement security. It is about YOUR retirement security and who will control YOUR savings. YOU should be able to determine how your Social Security dollars will be saved and invested.
Q4: Can’t the Social Security system be fixed by implementing modest changes, including raising the retirement age, or making the wealthy pay Social Security taxes on oil of their income?
A: Unfortunately, it will take much more than modest changes to save our broken system. The Social Security Administration notes that the current system will require a total of $27 trillion more revenue than it will receive in taxes over the next 75 years. Raising the retirement age or taxes will postpone the crisis, but will not end it. For too long, financial experts and independent economists have warned that Social Security is on a collision course with insolvency.
And yet Washington has not offered a meaningful solution. This is the old way, the 5 political way...to wait for the disaster to occur before making the necessary changes to PREVENT it. It is our responsibility to save and strengthen Social Security NOW, BEFORE the crisis occurs. It is what we were sent here to do and we have to get it done.
Frankly, I raising taxes would seriously harm our nation’s economy. We are already over--taxed in this country. As a society, that financial burden cannot be further increased because it would hurt every family in America. Now more than ever, we in Congress have a responsibility to make the tough decisions while not making the burden any harder on the American people.
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Q5: Can’t Washington just stop spending so much of the Social Security Trust Fund?
A: I agree spending in Washington has grown out of control, and I am working to make sure Congress develops a fiscally responsible budget. But unfortunately, the problem lies in the fact that Social Security is not truly a trust fund. For years now, the Social Security “trust fund” was nothing more than a stash of cash that the Washington politicians used for their own pet projects. All that’s left is a pile of Treasury Bills — IOUs that you and I will have to pay unless we act now.
Even if the borrowed money was paid back, this crisis will only be delayed — so that further generations can suffer its consequences. The question for us as Members of Congress is, “what are we going to do to make Social Security more reliable for the generations to come?” We have a responsibility in Washington to modernize Social Security in a way that achieves built--in reliability so that NO future generation has to go without retirement security.
Q6: I have heard it will cost an estimated 2 trillion dollars in transition costs to pay for setting up personal Social Security accounts. How can you justify incurring such an astronomical cost?
A: I am looking at the financial difficulties our children will inherit if we do nothing, and that’s even more frightening. Our choice is between an enormous crisis starting 13 years from now, when Social Security begins to pay out more than it takes in, or facing these challenges today, when they are a lot less expensive. To me, the best course of action is to face these challenges now, protect current retirees and save generations to come from needless financial heartache.
Q7: Won’t this new system jeopardize the benefits of current and near retirees?
A: Preserving the security of your benefits are a cornerstone of our program. Let me say this again. Your benefits are secure. If you are receiving your Social Security check, or nearing retirement, nothing will be taken away from you. Absolutely nothing.
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Q8: By investing a portion of our Social Security contributions in financial markets, aren’t we in essence gambling our money on stocks?
A: The financial markets have made America the most financially secure nation on the globe, yet tens of millions of Americans have not had the opportunity to invest. Until now. Every American worker should have the right to own and control their retirement savings account so that they can reap the benefits of a safe, secure and rewarding retirement.
Federal employees and even Members of Congress can enroll in savings plans that give them the right to invest in CDs, treasury notes and other safe investments that yield more than the two percent we get from Social Security. Most Americans now have IRAs and 401K plans that allow them to make choices in how to invest their retirement savings.
And that’s all we’re getting with Social Security. A paltry two percent. That’s even below the inflation rate! That’s not enough to retire with a nest egg. There is no security in today’s system of Social Security.
And we also have common sense limitations. These personal retirement accounts would give people the chance to take a small portion of their Social Security and invest it. Not their entire Social Security — just a small portion. The majority of their payroll taxes would go into the same system as a safety net.
Q9: Amidst all the recent cases illustrating the rampant fraud that has taken place on Wall Street, can we trust these fat cats with our hard--earned money?
Currently our Social Security is being gambled by a Washington Bureaucracy that is spending the Social Security trust fund AS WE SPEAK — and I believe that is a lot more dangerous. The truth is, the bureaucrats have more faith in Washington then they do in you. I put my faith in the American people.
Q10: I know for a fact that the stock market has crashed several times since its inception, most recently the day after September 11th, Wouldn’t an event like this be devastating to my Social Security account?
It is true the stock market went down after September 11th, but that was just one day. You have to look at stock market returns over time. Since 1985, the Dow Jones industrial average has climbed nearly 400 percent, and individuals who chose to invest a portion of their Social Security will be investing over these long--term periods. The stock market has always out--performed treasury bills and inflation …combined — a rate far exceeding what Social Security returns now.
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Q11: What other safeguards are in place to ensure my money will be there when I retire, no matter what the financial climate is like?
A: Aside from the strong performance of financial markets over the long term, as well as the fact that the majority of your account will remain in the Social Security trust fund as a safety net, the personal accounts that will be offered will be fully diversified. By employing a variety of financial products including stocks, treasury bills and bonds, they will allow you to diversify your risk. This diversification of investments is a proven strategy that has been used by millions of Americans who have already benefited with secure and long--term retirement benefits in the form of IRAs and 401ks.
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RESTORING THE SECURITY IN SOCIAL SECURITY
(a 20--minute stump speech)
As our nation takes up the great debate around Social Security, I ask you to pause for a moment This is about something more important, more fundamental to our nation and its hardworking citizens…this is not just a debate about Social Security — this is a debate over your retirement security.
This is not about the size of a check or what the government owes you, although it may be tempting to think of it that way. You want to be sure that you are provided for in your golden years — that you are secure in your retirement — that you can spend these special years with peace of mind living without fear.
It is this most basic principle — RETIREMENT SECURITY — that we in Washington must address.
For I believe Social Security is not simply a government program, and it is more than a safety net. It is a solemn promise by the United States to generations of diligent, hard--working Americans. It is clear to me that no one who has worked hard their entire life should have to spend their golden years in poverty or live in fear of financial ruin.
For too long, financial experts and independent economists have warned that Social Security is on a collision course with insolvency. And yet Washington has not offered a meaningful solution. This is the old way, the political way ... to wait for the disaster to occur before making the necessary changes to PREVENT it.
Instead of addressing the problem and applying a solution, we in Washington do nothing until the situation deteriorates into a crisis...passing the buck from one generation to the next. And that’s the trajectory of Social
Security. Maybe not right now, but it’s coming.
Well, as Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here.” It is our job in Congress to put an end to this vicious cycle and restore generational fairness to Social Security so that seniors get every dime they are entitled to but that it surveys for their children and doesn’t end up bankrupting their grandchildren. It is our responsibility to save and strengthen Social Security NOW, BEFORE the crisis occurs. It is what we were sent here to do and we have to get it done.
First and foremost, improving our Social Security system cannot be a partisan issue. When it comes to the retirement of tens of millions of Americans, there are no Democrats or Republicans. There are only
Americans — and those Americans are depending on us to stop the bickering and the cheap political stunts and do what’s right for .the current generation now receiving benefits, the next generation who are paying those benefits, and future generations who are now just entering the workforce.
Click here to read (Social Security (Part b): Conclusion)