Strengthen, don't ruin, Social Security

I appreciate this newspaper's effort to correct a widespread inaccuracy, and wish to reiterate that it is simply factually untrue to state that members of Congress do not pay Social Security taxes. Like other Americans, members of Congress, including myself, pay into the Social Security program.

Social Security reflects the best of America's values. It is a benefit that senior citizens earn, by working and paying into the system, and allows millions of seniors to live independently and with dignity. Social Security reduces the poverty rate among seniors from about 50 percent to about 10 percent, and provides critical support for the disabled and for the surviving family members of workers who die.

I remember as a young boy my own grandmother getting her "old age pension check" and the self-respect and pride she felt at not having to rely on her children to care for her.

Social Security faces long term challenges but, it is not in crisis. According to the Congressional Budget Office, which is a non-partisan agency, we will be able to pay full Social Security benefits for nearly 50 years into the future. And after that, we will still have the ability to pay 80 percent of benefits. However, Social Security does face long-term challenges that we need to address.

I want to strengthen and improve the program. But I will not be a part of any plan that destroys Social Security. Democrats are not going to negotiate with the president on how to destroy the program, which is exactly what his privatization scheme would do. Privatization does nothing to shore up Social Security, and would drive us even further into massive deficits.

The baby boom generation will eventually put pressure on the Social Security program, and we need to address this challenge. We need to make sure the program is solvent not just 50 years into the future, but for generations past that. But we must do it right. We have time to craft a thoughtful solution that will not cut benefits or add massive debt.

Addressing the long-term challenges of Social Security will take tough choices and prioritizing our budget, but it can be done. And, of course, to really address the retirement security of seniors, we need to do more than strengthen Social Security. One of my top priorities this Congress will be pension reform and strengthening the retirement security for all Americans. Too few Americans are saving for their future, and we should be addressing that, as well.

That is why we should consider modernizing our complex system of retirement savings and developing new tax-free ways to help middle class families save, outside of Social Security.

n Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is the Senate minority leader.


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