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July 26, 2001
Social Security Panel Lambasted
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panel created by President Bush to consider major changes in the Social Security system has found itself in a firefight after producing an interim report that gives a gloomy assessment of the nation's retirement system.

Critics, led by Capitol Hill Democrats, charge that the panel is exaggerating the program's frailties. Panel members call their opponents "know-nothings" and "Luddites."

That in turn led a key House Democrat to call on President Bush to "throw out this commission that has no credibility" and begin direct, bipartisan negotiations over Social Security's future.

The vitriol foreshadows the opposition the Bush administration is certain to encounter once the commission completes its work late this year, according to the Washington Post.

"We've got a shooting war that's started now, and it's only going to get worse," said David John, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. He shares the administration's goals for changing the system.

The president's panel, co-chaired by Richard D. Parsons, chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner Inc., and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., unanimously endorsed its 30-page interim report on Tuesday after making minor changes to a draft issued last week.

The panel intends to use the document as the groundwork for carrying out its main assignment from Bush: Designing a system of private retirement accounts that would use some of the payroll taxes that now pay for 40 million Americans to receive monthly Social Security checks.

The name-calling, erupting before the panel even begins that more difficult part of its task, reflects deep divisions over the future of the entitlement program, the Post observes.

It also throws into question whether Bush's strategy to promote Social Security changes is instead thwarting the prospects for agreement with Congress on a highly popular but politically treacherous issue.

Congressional Democrats told the Post that Bush erred in choosing 16 commissioners , eight Democrats, eight Republicans, who promised they would support some form of individual retirement accounts. The panel "will do the president and the nation a great disservice," said Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., "It will be a divisive force in the Social Security debate."

Dozens of pickets from labor unions, advocates for the elderly and women's groups clogged the sidewalk in front of the Washington hotel where the panel met, part of 40 protests that opponents of the commission orchestrated around the country.

Meanwhile, two other groups of opponents, including several congressional Democrats, staged midday news conferences to criticize the report.

Some Democrats advocated more modest changes to the system, similar to ones proposed without success during the late 1990s by President Clinton. One of those changes would invest some of the program's trust fund in the stock market. Another would use some of the federal surplus for tax credits to encourage personal savings. Neither would divert payroll taxes into individual accounts.

Commission members, however, said their report makes the case for fundamental changes.

It concludes that Social Security will face financial strains in 15 years as the large baby boom generation reaches old age and Americans live longer, creating a nation with fewer workers to help support every retiree. Without fundamental changes such as private retirement accounts, the report says, the system will require big benefit cuts or tax cuts, or a "massive" expansion of public debt.

To view the Washington Post story, click here.

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