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Panel details three options for overhaul

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

WASHINGTON -- A presidential commission unanimously approved recommendations Tuesday that would allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in the stock market. In some cases, benefits would be cut.

Rather than agree on a single option, the commission decided to send to President Bush three separate proposals for private investment accounts. Each would require the government to provide significant funds for the transition. Estimates range from $1.3 billion to $71 billion with 100 percent participation.

The report does not offer examples of how much benefits would be cut, although members of Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security acknowledged that they would be.

"We're going to face a lot of criticism I'm sure for cutting benefits but it won't affect anybody over age 55 today," said Commissioner John Cogan.

Commission members said the current system is financially unstable and needs reform.

"We're all on the Titanic as it relates to Social Security and people are telling us it's the safest ship afloat," said Robert Johnson, a Democratic commissioner. "But we are heading for a disaster."

'Something must happen'

Said Gerald Parsky, a Republican commissioner: "Doing nothing is not a real option. Something must happen to preserve this important system."

Still, the final report suggests policy-makers discuss the issues for at least a year before taking legislative action.

Any action before then appears unlikely now, given the state of the economy and the repercussions from the terrorist attacks. Hefty budget surpluses no longer are being projected, and domestic concerns such as Social Security are getting less attention.

"The exact timing of when Congress may be able to move Social Security legislation is clearly up in the air, but many in Congress do not think it can happen before the election" next year, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Bush made Social Security overhaul and personal investment accounts a top agenda item in his 2000 election campaign.


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