Monday, November 29, 2004

Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing

Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing
“White House and Republicans in Congress are all but certain to embrace large-scale government borrowing to help finance President Bush's plan to create personal investment accounts in Social Security, according to administration officials, members of Congress and independent analysts.

The White House says it has made no decisions about how to pay for establishing the accounts, and among Republicans on Capitol Hill there are divergent opinions about how much borrowing would be prudent at a time when the government is running large budget deficits. Many Democrats say that the costs associated with setting up personal accounts just make Social Security's financial problems worse, and that the United States can scarcely afford to add to its rapidly growing national debt.

But proponents of Mr. Bush's effort to make investment accounts the centerpiece of an overhaul of the retirement system said there were no realistic alternatives to some increases in borrowing, a requirement the White House is beginning to acknowledge.…”

Proponents say the necessary amount of borrowing could vary widely, from hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars over a decade, depending on how much money people are permitted to contribute to the accounts and whether the changes to Social Security include benefit cuts and tax increases.

Borrowing by the government could be necessary to establish the personal accounts because of the way Social Security pays for benefits. Under the current system, the payroll tax levied on workers goes to benefits for people who are already retired. Personal accounts would be paid for out of the same pool of money; they would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in mutual funds or other investments.

The money going into the accounts would therefore no longer be available to pay benefits to current retirees. The shortfall would have to be made up somehow to preserve benefits for people who are already retired during the transition from one system to the other, and by nearly all estimates there is no way to make it up without relying at least in part on government borrowing.

Mr. Bush has vowed to push hard to remake Social Security. Republicans in Congress say the White House has signaled to them that Mr. Bush will put the issue at the top of his domestic agenda in the coming year.

But the White House has never answered fundamental questions about Mr. Bush's plan. In particular, it has not explained how it would deal with the financial quandary created by its call for personal accounts.

Some conservative analysts and Republicans in Congress say a portion of the temporary financial gap that would be created by personal accounts could be closed through measures like holding down the growth in overall government spending. But nearly everyone involved in the debate over Social Security agrees that some borrowing will be necessary.

The main Republican players in Congress on the issue say they expect to endorse an increase in borrowing to finance the transition to a new system. But they remain split over whether to back plans that would include larger investment accounts and few painful trade-offs like benefit cuts and tax increases - and therefore require more borrowing - or to limit borrowing and include more steps that would be politically unpopular.

"Anybody who thinks borrowing money for the transition to personal accounts is going to solve the problem of the long-term solvency of Social Security doesn't understand the size of the problem," said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the retirement system.…

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/28/politics/28secure.html?&pagewanted=all&position=
con·cept: Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing