Politics & Policy

Keeping It Personal

The GOP won't drop individual accounts for Social Security.

Contrary to Stephen Moore and Peter Ferrara, who recently wrote on NRO about what they call the GOP’s “latest capitulation to the Democrats,” Senate Republicans have done no such thing as take voluntary personal retirement accounts (PRAs) off the table. In fact, if the two had asked me what Senate Republicans were up to instead of quoting a report by the Associated Press, perhaps there would be no need to set the record straight. Again.

Since the start of the 109th Congress, Republicans have been working hard to get Democrats to the table, reaching out to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to find a permanent solution to save and strengthen Social Security. Democrats have offered nothing but threats and scheming–not a single idea or recommendation for how to proceed.

So far, all that Democratic leaders have talked about is what they won’t do, vowing to block any plan that includes PRAs. It is quite obvious that Democratic leadership is more worried about seeing that President Bush does not have a legislative victory than about the well-being of the American people. Congress Daily reported that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) recently said it would take a personal commitment and “a handshake” from President Bush before he would feel comfortable enough to negotiate with the White House.

Regardless, I am hopeful that there are some Democrats who are willing to negotiate.

Meanwhile, the president and Republicans in Congress have put forward numerous plans to fix Social Security permanently in a fair and responsible manner. Republicans believe that a reform plan incorporating PRAs builds on the values of Social Security’s past while modernizing the program for the future. Yes, all ideas remain on the table, but PRAs continue to be the centerpiece of the Republican plan to save and strengthen Social Security.

Republicans are committed to modernizing Social Security to meet the needs of the new millennium. Currently, workers don’t own or control their retirement funds and cannot pass on their accumulated Social Security retirement savings to their loved ones and families because, as dollars are paid into the system by workers, they are in turn paid to current Social Security recipients. PRAs provide individuals — not the government — with control and ownership. They also offer new hope to young workers — hope that they will not be burdened with massive tax increases, painful benefit cuts, or both. And they hold the promise of a greater return for future generations than what they are promised by today’s Social Security system.

Senate Republicans have worked hard to educate Americans about the need for Social Security reform and PRAs. Over the recent Easter break, Senate Republicans held over 50 events on Social Security. House Republicans held over 150 events. After spending so much time talking about the need to fix Social Security permanently, and about how PRAs should be a part of any solution, Republicans are not about to take PRAs off the table. Furthermore, there is evidence that our hard work is paying off.

Public sentiment has changed regarding Social Security reform. A recent FOX News poll found that 60 percent favor giving workers the opportunity to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in stocks or mutual funds. Support for personal retirement accounts is above 50 percent among all age groups and two-thirds of those under age 45 support PRAs. Further, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans think Social Security is an “extremely” or “very” important issue for Congress to deal with. The poll also found 61 percent of Americans think political leaders are moving too slowly to change Social Security. Americans understand that there is a problem and are now looking to the Senate for solutions.

Congress has the opportunity and responsibility to work in a bipartisan fashion to protect current and near retirees while ensuring sustainable financial security and peace of mind for future generations. Rest assured, Republicans remain committed to saving and strengthening Social Security this year to allow younger workers the option to build a nest egg by putting part of their Social Security taxes in PRAs.

Rick Santorum is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

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