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Social Security, insecurity matter of ideology

By Greg Gelpi

No one should tinker with something that seems to be working fine, Frances Sellars, 80, said.

Sellars expressed her disagreement with President Bush's proposal to privatize Social Security, a move that would allow individuals to invest portions of Social Security in the stock market.

She was one of many in a Forest Park First Baptist Church senior citizens group who agreed with alternatives pitched to them by U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, Tuesday.

"Social Security is the paramount issue we're dealing with in Washington today," Scott said. "My position is that we must strengthen Social Security."

The president is using scare tactics to create a sense of urgency and his proposal will only worsen the financial status of Social Security, the congressman said.

But, that's not the case, said Marty Klein, the communications director for the Georgia Republican Party.

"Clearly something has to be done to save the program," Klein said. "In fact, it's a real crisis and it's on the way. The worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and hope that nothing comes."

Bush's proposal would allow individuals to place up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes into the stock market, which would provide a greater return on their investments, he said.

With fewer paying into the Social Security system and more drawing from it, it creates a "recipe for disaster," Klein said.

There isn't a sense of emergency, Scott said. The Social Security system will remain solvent through 2052.

"I think we have a ways to go to getting to the solution of this, but it has to be done in a slower way without hitting the panic button," Scott said.

Sellars said that many senior citizens would be left in the care of their children and grandchildren without Social Security and that the program should remain untouched.

Emmett Lee, a retired Clayton County, agreed with the congressman as well, saying that Social Security should be left alone.

Instead of privatization, Scott suggested considering raising the age of collecting Social Security or raising the cap of payroll taxes from $100,000. People are living to be older and the value of money isn't as much since the age was established for seniors to receive Social Security benefits and the payroll tax cap was set.

"The problem of Social Security can't be solved by taking money out of it," Scott said. "The problem can only be solved by putting money into it."

Problems with Social Security are the "fault of greedy politicians robbing the system" to fund things other than Social Security.

The issue doesn't come down to numbers, but ideology, said Hugh Arnold, associate professor of Political Science at Clayton College & State University.

"It is very difficult to believe that an administration which is coming close to bankrupting the U.S. Treasury with its huge deficits (which were huge surpluses when Bush took office) is vitally concerned with a shortfall in 32 years when they don't care at all about incredible deficits right now," Arnold said. "That is why I think that the issue is not math, but ideology. It has long been a Republican position that the federal government should not be in the retirement security business. That is the job of the individual by that ideology."

He said that Social Security funds are in his opinion "safe with perhaps a little tweaking as they do every 20 years or so." Social Security was designed to run surpluses and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it will continue to do so until 2037, Arnold said, when it will begin dipping into years of surpluses.

According to the Bush administration, the proposal would shore up Social Security, reduce the costs of "fixing" the system and keep the system solvent.