Clinton Holding Social Security "Town Hall"

By: Sandra Sobiera
July 27, 1998

Albuquerque, N.M. President Clinton was skeptical today about proposals to invest a portion of the Social Security trust fund in stocks. "What are the risks?" he asked. "What are the dangers?"

Addressing his second national forum on sustaining the retirement system through the Baby Boomers' retirement next century, Clinton noted that the value of the stock market has nearly tripled over the last six years. "Can we look forward to having that happen every six years from now on? If not, what are the risks?" he asked an audience at the University of New Mexico. "I think we have to be open minded about these proposals and we also have to ask the hard questions," he went on.

Clinton opened the half-day discussion, cosponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons and the Concord Coalition, which lobbies for fiscal responsibility by the government. Some lawmakers most prominently Republicans propose investing part of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market to increase its value. Others favor giving individuals control over some or all of their Social Security payments, allowing them to invest in the private sector.

While Clinton said he wanted to keep the debate nonpartisan, the president couldn't help but tweak the Republican-led Congress for mulling tax cuts. Clinton has asked Congress to save "every penny" of this year's projected budget surplus until Social Security changes are decided. "In an election year, asking politicians to hold off on a tax cut is almost defying human nature," Clinton chided. "The American people waited 29 years to get out of the red ink and look at the black. We can take a year to enjoy the black and deal with the long term problems," he said.

In a weekend of politicking that preceded his arrival here, Clinton said rescuing the retirement fund was a good political issue for Democrats. "Our party, which created Social Security and created Medicare, has the responsibility to take the lead in a constructive reform of them," the president told big-money contributors participating in a Democratic Party retreat in Aspen, Colo. Clinton also participated in the AARP-Concord Coalition debate in April.

As he edges toward unveiling his own proposal early next year the president wants to avoid staking out any firm position that could imperil Democrats in November's congressional elections. Instead, he has called for these debates to rally public consensus on the difficult choices to be made if Social Security is to survive the retirement of the huge baby boom generation.

Clinton and his GOP rivals are struggling to find a plan to make up for a cash shortfall expected when 77 million baby boomers become eligible for Social Security benefits. There are projections that the program will be unable to pay full benefits to retirees sometime around 2032 unless changes are made. Republicans recently pushed through the House legislation to create an independent commission this year to recommend changes.

Clinton said over the weekend that he wanted Democrats to lead the way. Championing sustaining reforms is the "first big issue," he said in outlining to party boosters a multi-pronged strategy for Democrats to win in 1998 and beyond.

Today's forum is the third of four such meetings planned this year. Clinton attended the first in April in Kansas City, Mo., and Vice President Al Gore headlined the second near Providence, R.I., on July 1. The location of the fourth event has not been determined. Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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