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Clinton: Save Social Security

April 7, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Opening a national dialogue on the future of Social Security, President Clinton says he is seeking a bipartisan roadmap to prevent the system from being overrun by the largest wave of retirees in history.

Clinton was flying today to Kansas City, Mo., a heartland metropolis half a continent away from Washington’s partisan squabbles, to convene the first of four town meetings aimed at airing all sides of the Social Security debate.

The president put Social Security’s fate on the table during his State of the Union address in January, saying that when Congress and the administration ponder what to do with the projected budget surplus they should be guided by four simple words: ``Save Social Security first.″

Since its founding in 1935 as a key part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Social Security has become one of the most emotional issues on the American political scene.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Monday that the Kansas City forum would include representatives from both major political parties and ``from groups that have sometimes taken contrary positions on the future of Social Security.″

``The purpose of the discussions ... is to encourage many people with different views to come forward and put ideas on the table from which we can fashion the kind of consensus that will lead us to a good long-term policy,″ McCurry said.

If nothing is done, Social Security could be overwhelmed fairly early in the new century by the retirement of the post World War II baby boomers, the largest generation in America’s history. Current predictions are that without changes, the system will run short of cash by 2029.

A plan endorsed by many congressional Republicans and some moderate Democrats is to divert at least some Social Security taxes into a privately managed savings system in which workers themselves would invest the money deducted from their wages.

But Clinton administration officials say such a radical change may not be needed. They say Social Security’s future also could be assured by adjusting tax rates and benefit levels and by delaying the retirement age.

An Associated Press poll late last month indicates most Americans like the private savings approach in theory, but not necessarily in practice.

Eighty percent said they would favor letting workers shift some of their Social Security tax payments into private accounts. But when asked if they would like to invest their own Social Security money in stocks and mutual funds, 53 percent said no, it would be too risky.

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