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Thu, Feb. 21
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Talk of the Town

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says that his party is "marching in lockstep" to block any reform to the current Social Security program, particularly the president's proposal to introduce personal retirement accounts.

He says the system is in good shape and is financially sound for decades to come. Democrats see no urgent need for reform and refuse to consider any changes to the program's current structure.

The reason behind their collective obstinacy is money, your FICA dollars. To understand what is going on with Social Security today, take a line from the movies and "follow the money."

So, let's follow the money.

Each year, the government rakes in an incredible amount of FICA dollars. And, each year, politicians loot a good chunk of it and spend it on their political agendas. Democrats are not the only ones dipping into our retirement funds. Republicans occasionally get in on the action too.

What has happened to our supplementary retirement program since its inception back in 1935 is outrageous and borderlines on the unconscionable.

President Franklin Roosevelt introduced Social Security as a social safety net for those Depression-era Americans who were unable (or unwilling) to plan for their own retirement. At that time FDR promised that:

• The program would be voluntary;

• The participants would have to pay only 1 percent of the first $1,400 of their annual income into the program;

• They could deduct the voluntary contribution as income for tax purposes each year;

• The government would place the money into an independent "Trust Fund," not the General Operating Fund, and use it only to pay retirees;

• The government would never tax the annuity payments to retirees as income.

Once the program was in effect, Democrats ignored their principles and raided the trust funds by crafting legislation to give them access to the protected money.

They executed the raid during the 1960s when President Johnson took Social Security out of the Independent Trust Fund and put it into the General Fund so the Democratically controlled Congress could spend it, leaving its recipients nothing but IOU's. Congress wasted a large chunk of the money on what became two of the greatest societal failures of the past century, LBJ's Great Society and his War Against Poverty.

That started the ball rolling. Now, follow the money further.

During President Carter's tenure, Democrats extended SSI Social Security annuity payments to immigrants at age 65, even though they never paid a nickel into the system.

Today, the effects of massive immigration alone place a greater demand on the Social Security system than cheap, illegal labor can support.

Under President Clinton, the Democrats pushed a bill through Congress that eliminated the income tax deduction from FICA and taxed Social Security annuities at the rate of 85percent, thanks to Vice President Al Gore who cast the tie-breaking vote. This double taxation on retirement money was part of the greatest tax increase in the history of public finance.

Again, during Clinton's watch, many of the nation's chronic unemployed went onto SSI rolls when their welfare benefits expired. Few had ever paid into the system.

The increasing number of people drawing pensions from the fund who have never paid in is bankrupting the system. This includes many who are younger than retirement age and considered treatable alcoholics and drug addicts. Also the chronic unemployed, the medically unemployable and even a few illegal immigrants receive payments from your retirement savings.

Democrats fiercely oppose the president's reform plan because of its centerpiece. They simply do not want workers to have their own wealth-creating personal retirement plan and control over their own money. Aside from their ideological hatred of Bush and the desire to see him fail, they realize that money in personal accounts is money inaccessible to them and they cannot use it to pay for their political agenda.

That's where the money would end. And they know it.

For this reason alone, Democrats are willing to force working Americans to continue paying into a losing retirement program.

Democrats need to lose their obstructive attitudes, recognize that the problem exists, and offer their own solutions. If not, they should step aside and allow others to hone the president's ideas into compromise legislation that has a chance to clear a recalcitrant Congress.

Chances are they will do neither. Congressional Democrats nearly unanimously agree that the system is solvent and Social Security is the most successful government program ever.

(Mr. Shoemaker is a retired Marine Corps officer and a registered Independent voter. He lives in Prescott.)


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