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Transcript of Clinton Remarks on Social Security (Part 2 of 2)
To: National Desk
Contact: White House Press Office, 202-456-2100

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is a transcript of remarks made by President Clinton today on social security (Part 2 of 2):

That is our obligation to you and, frankly, to ourselves. And let me explain that. This fiscal crisis in Social Security affects every generation. We now know that the Social Security trust fund is fine for another few decades. But if it gets in trouble and we don't deal with it, then it not only affects the generation of the baby boomers and whether they'll have enough to live on when they retire, it raises the question of whether they will have enough to live on by unfairly burdening their children and, therefore, unfairly burdening their children's ability to raise their grandchildren. That would be unconscionable, especially since, if you move now, we can do less and have a bigger impact, especially since we now have the budget surplus.

Let me back up just a minute, mostly for the benefit of the young people in the audience, to talk a little bit about the importance of this effort. It's hard for even people in my generation to understand this, much less yours. But early in this century, to be old meant to be poor. To be old meant to be poor. The vast majority of people over 65 in America early in this century were living in poverty. Their reward for a lifetime of work, for doing right by their children, for helping with their grandchildren, unless their kids could take care of them, was living in poverty.

If you ever have a chance you ought to read some of the books that have thousands of letters that older people sent to President Roosevelt, begging him, in the words of one typical letter writer, to eliminate -- and I quote -- "the stark terror of penniless, helpless old age." That's what prompted President Roosevelt to launch the Social Security system in 1935, to create what he called the cornerstone of a civilized society.

Now, for more than half a century Social Security has been a dramatic success. If you just look at the first chart over here on the right, you will see that in 1959 -- I don't see as well as I once did -- (laughter) -- the poverty rate among seniors was still 35 percent. As recently as 1959, still over a third of seniors lived in poverty. By 1979, it had dropped to 15.2 percent. By 1996, it had dropped to 10.8 percent.

To give you an idea of the profound success of the program over the last 30 years -- as you know, there have been increasing number of children being raised in single-parent households, where the incomes are not so high -- the child poverty rate in America is almost twice that. But no one can begrudge that. So the first thing we need to say is, Social Security has succeeded in ending the stark terror of a penniless old age. And that is a terrific achievement for the America society.

Now, it's also known, however, that the changes that are underway today will place great stresses on the Social Security safety net. The baby boomers are getting grey. When my generation retires -- and I'm the oldest of the baby boomers; I was born in 1946, I'm 51 -- and the generation is normally held to run for the 18 years after that, that's normally what people mean when they talk about the baby boomers -- it will dramatically change the ratio of workers to earners, aggravated by increasing early retirements and other things, offset by gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age enacted back in 1983. So if you look at that, that's the second chart here.

In 1960, there were 5.1 Americans working for every one person drawing Social Security. In 1997, there's still 3.3 people working for every one person drawing Social Security. In 2030, the year after the Social Security trust fund supposedly will go broke unless we change something, at present projected retirement rates -- that is, the presently projected retirement age and same rates -- there will be two people working for every one person drawing Social Security.

Now, if you look at that plus the present investment patterns of the funds of which are designed to secure 100 percent security and, therefore, get a somewhat lower return in return for 100 percent security for the investments, that's what will cause the problem. So if you look at the presently projected retirement and the presently projected returns, that will cause the problem.

It's very important you understand this. Once you understand this, you realize this is not an episode from the X Files, and you're not more likely to see a UFO if you do certain specific things. On the other hand, if you don't do anything, one of two things will happen -- either it will go broke and you won't ever get it; or if we wait too long to fix it, the burden on society of taking care of our generation's Social Security obligations will lower your income and lower your ability to take care of your children to a degree most of us who are your parents think would be horribly wrong and unfair to you and unfair to the future prospects of the United States.

So what's the bottom line? You can see it. Today, we're actually taking in a lot more money from Social Security taxes enacted in 1983 than we're spending out. Because we've run deficits, none of that money has been saved for Social Security. Now, if you look at this little chart here, from 1999 forward we'll be able to save that money -- or a lot of it, anyway. We'll be able to save a lot of it that will go into pure surplus in the budget. It can be invested. But other things will have to be done, as well. That will not be enough.

And if nothing is done by 2029, there will be a deficit in the Social Security trust fund, which will either require -- if you just wait until then -- a huge tax increase in the payroll tax or just about a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits. And let me say today, Social Security -- I want to put that in, too, because I want you all to start thinking about this -- Social Security was conceived as giving a floor for life. It is not enough to sustain the standard of living of almost any retiree retiring today.

So you also will have to make provisions for your own retirement savings, and you should start early when you go out and go to work, with a 401(k) plan or whatever. But this is what is going to happen unless we change. if we change now we can make a big difference.

I should also point out that Social Security also goes to the spouses of people when their widowed. Social Security also goes to the disabled. There's a Social Security disability program. Cassandra Wilkins, who's here with us, who the Vice President recognized, ran the Social Security disability program for me when I was governor. It's a very important program. But all of these things should be seen in terms of these economic realities.

Now, again I say, if we act soon, less is more. If we can develop a consensus as a country to act soon we can take relatively modest steps in any number of directions to run this 2029 number well out into the future in ways that will keep Social Security's role in providing some retirement security to people without unfairly burdening your generation and your ability to raise your children to do that. And I can tell you, I have had countless talks with baby boomers of all income groups and I haven't found a single person in my generation who is not absolutely determined to fix this in a way that does not unfairly burden your generation. But we have to start now.

We have to join together and face the facts. We have to rise above partisanship, just the way we did when we forced the historic balanced budget agreement. This is -- as you can well see, this is reducible to stark mathematical terms. This need not become a partisan debate. Oh, there ought to be a debate, a good debate on what the best way to invest the funds are. There ought to be a good debate on what the best trade-offs are between the changes that will have to be made. But it ought to be done with a view toward making America stronger and, again, preserving the ties that bind us across the generations.

I have asked the America Association of Retired Persons, the AARP, a leading voice for older Americans, and the Concord Coalition, a leading voice for fiscal discipline, to organize a series of four nonpartisan regional forums this year. The Vice President and I will participate. I hope the Republican and Democratic leadership will also participate. I was encouraged that Speaker Gingrich said the other day that he felt we should save the surplus until we had fixed the Social Security first.

The first forum, which will set out before the American people the full nature of the problem -- essentially, hat I'm doing with you today with a few more details -- will be in Kansas City on April 7th. Then in subsequent ones we will hear from a variety of experts and average citizens across all ages. It is very important to me that this debate involve young people -- very important, because you have a huge stake in it and you need to imagine where you will be and what kind of investment patterns you think are fair for you and how you think this is going to play out over the next 20, 30, 40 years. We want people of all ages involved in this.

This national call also will spread to every corner of the country, to every member of Congress. There are other private groups which have to play a role. The Pew Charitable Trust has launched a vital public information campaign -- Americans Discuss Social Security. On March 21st, I will help kick off the first of many of their town hall meetings and teleconferences.

Now, when we go out across the country and share the information and get people's ideas -- then, at the end of the year in December, I will convene a historic White House Conference on Social Security. And then, in a year, I will call together the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to begin drafting comprehensive, bipartisan landmark legislation to save the Social Security system.

This national effort will require the best of our people -- and I think it will get the best of our people. It will ask us to plan for the future. It will ask us to be open to new ideas, not to be hide bound and believe that we can see the future through the prism of the past. But it will ask us to hold on to the old values that lifted our senior citizen from the burden of abject poverty to the dignity of a deserved good, solid old age.

Keep in mind, most of you who are sitting out here can look forward to a life expectancy well into your 80s. Most of you, by the time you get to be my age, if you live to be my age, your life expectancy will probably be by then 90 or more. We're going to have to rethink this whole thing. But we have to do it with a view towards preserving the principles and the integrity of our society, binding us together across the generations and across the income divides.

We can do this. President Roosevelt often called us to the spirit of bold, persistent experimentation. We will have to do that. But he also reminded us that our greatest challenges we can only meet as one nation. And we must remember that. With our increasing diversity, and the way we work and live, and our racial and ethnic and other backgrounds -- religious backgrounds -- we still have to be, when it comes to treating people with dignity and fulfilling our obligations to one another, one nation.

Acting today for the future is in some ways the oldest of American traditions. It's what Thomas Jefferson did when he purchased the Louisiana Territory and sent Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition. It' what Abraham Lincoln did when at the height of the Civil War, he and the Congress took the time to establish a system of land grant colleges, which revolutionized the future of America. It's what we Americans did when, in the depths of the Depression, when people were only concerned about the moment, and 25 percent of the American people were out of work, our Congress and our President still took the time to establish a Social Security system, that could only take flower and have full impact long after they were gone.

That is what we do when we do best -- what Professor Quigley called "future preference." What I prefer is a future in which my generation can retire, those who are not as fortunate as me can retire in dignity, but we can do it in a way that does not burden you and your ability to raise our grandchildren. Because I believe the best days of this country lie ahead of us if we fulfill our responsibilities today for tomorrow.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:21 A.M. EST

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