Bush expects results from Social Security commission

Wednesday, May 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush's new Social Security commission is the eighth special council created in the past 20 years to study the federal retirement plan. Only one resulted in any major changes.

In Washington, ``commission'' often is code word for delay. Bush says he wants his to be different, to make good on his campaign pledge to change Social Security. Democrats are criticizing his tactics.

The eight Republicans and eight Democrats named to the commission Wednesday favor partially privatizing Social Security, as does Bush. He wants to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in private accounts.

``Today, young workers who are paying ... Social Security might as well be saving their money in their mattresses. That's how low the return is on their contributions,'' Bush said. ``The return will only decline further, maybe even below zero if we do not proceed with reform.''

The commission is to present its findings to Bush in the fall, and should include a plan for private accounts, he said. Any recommendation would be subject to congressional approval, though Congress isn't likely to tackle the issue next year _ an election year.

Democrats charge the commission was created to give Bush political cover with its bipartisan makeup but a predetermined outcome. Co-chairmen are former Democratic New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who supports private investment accounts, and Richard Parsons, AOL Time Warner's co-chief operating officer, a Republican.

``The panel members on this Social Security commission would be the equivalent of oil companies on a commission on ANWAR,'' which is Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. Oil companies favor drilling in the refuge while environmentalists want to preserve it untouched.

The makeup of the Social Security commission was by design, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

``It's been too often, not always, but too often in the history of Social Security that commissions did gather dust or they did create gridlock,'' he said. ``The president wants to break that pattern this year.''

Of the seven special councils or commissions on Social Security since 1981, only the 1982 National Commission on Social Security Reform headed by Alan Greenspan resulted in changes to the plan, according to the Social Security Administration.

That commission expanded the plan to cover federal employees and instituted a gradual retirement age increase from 65 to 67.

Social Security is expected to start paying out more than it collects by 2016 because of an influx of baby boom retirees. The fund will run out of cash after 2038.

Bush has proposed shoring up the program by letting younger workers voluntarily invest some of their payroll taxes in private accounts, arguing that the stock market will provide a much greater return over time.

AARP condemned Bush's plan and the commission.

``The commission may represent a missed opportunity because it lacks the balance of opinion that is essential for public credibility of its recommendations,'' said AARP Executive Director Horace Deets.

Opponents point to recent stock market volatility as a reason against such accounts. They also say the private accounts would drain too much money from the program.

``After the last six months in the stock market, I am shocked that the president would really be trying to move forward with this proposal,'' House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said.