WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush's new Social Security Commission met Monday for the first time to begin developing a plan to let younger workers invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market.
``The system has to change, everyone agrees,'' said Estelle James, a Democratic member and World Bank consultant. ``The problem really presents us with an opportunity to fix the system.''
Bush appointed the commission to suggest ways to shore up future funding for the program by creating personal, private investment accounts. Any change would be subject to congressional approval.
All 16 commission members _ both Republicans and Democrats _ have supported privatization of the system to some degree. Critics charged that Bush stacked the commission with supporters that would provide political weight to his campaign pledge of creating personal investment accounts.
The commission ``is astonishingly unrepresentative of the array of views held by most Americans concerning Social Security's future,'' said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Institute for America's Future.
Hickey noted that members include corporate executives and financial investment officials, but no representatives or advocates for Social Security beneficiaries.
Social Security will start paying out more in benefits than workers pay into the system starting in 2016. Benefits will have to be cut, taxes increased or the system reformed to meet future demand, especially as the large baby-boomer generation nears retirement and starts to deplete the Social Security fund.
The commission will issue an initial report that will identify problems with the system and make the case for reform, said Co-chairman Dick Parsons, a Republican and co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner. A final report will be issued to the president this fall.
The commission's task is large. It must devise a way to pay for the voluntary, private investment accounts when most of the government's projected surplus has been dedicated to Bush's tax cut. It also must persuade the public to privatize social security at a time when the stock market has plunged.
But commission member Gerry Parsky, a Republican and former assistant treasury secretary under President Ford, said the commission must educate the public that the stock market ``should not be feared.''
``We need to properly assess that risk and not look at one moment in time,'' he said. ``This is a system that needs to be reformed for the long term.''