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President Bush discusses Social Security on campus

Hanna, Maddie | Friday, March 4, 2005

President Bush discussed problems with the current Social Security system and his privatization plan before about 6,000 members of the South Bend community and 200 Notre Dame students at the Joyce Center Friday.”I believe this is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Bush said. “The longer you wait, the harder it is to come up with a solution.”More people are living longer today and receiving greater benefits from the government than in the past, Bush said, which will create massive problems for the Social Security system in the near future.”Social Security has been a great safety net, a vital part of the country – but there are some holes in the Social Security net, especially for the younger generation,” Bush said.While Bush assured current retirees in the audience, “You’re going to get your check, that’s a fact,” he said they should be concerned for their children and grandchildren.”If I were a younger American, I’d be asking loud and clear, ‘What are you going to be doing about this train wreck heading my way?'” he said.This “train wreck,” Bush said, means that in 2027 the government will need to raise $20 million more than payroll taxes to meet its current guarantees on Social Security, a figure that increases rapidly each year after.As a solution, Bush proposed privatization of Social Security accounts, a switch from the current “pay-as-you-go” system to a savings system allowing Americans to set aside their own money in personal accounts similar to the thrift savings plans of federal employees.Bush said that this plan would have four main benefits for Americans.”First, there’s the compounding rate of interest,” Bush said, noting that this rate would be higher than the “paltry” rate of return from current Social Security accounts.He also said that with this account and the higher rate of interest, “The money you end up having for your retirement is close to what the government promised.”Secondly, Bush said that this plan would allow Americans greater control of their finances.”It’s your money,” Bush said. “You can pass it on when you die.”As his third argument, Bush attacked the idea of an “investor class” that he said was prevalent in American society.”There is a myth in America that only certain people can be investors,” Bush said. “I think everybody in this country has the capacity to manage a personal account.”Finally, Bush said he believes it is important for people to have control of their money. “I think it makes sense to have people open a quarterly statement and watch their money growing,” he said.Although Bush stressed the benefits of this privatization plan, he said the main goal of his tour around the country – 60 stops in 60 days – was simply to raise awareness of the issue and solicit feedback.”One thing is for certain that Congress needs to know: we have a problem that needs to be addressed. And if anybody has any ideas, I’m looking forward to hearing them,” Bush said.Alongside of Bush stood a six-member panel of community members who shared their personal opinions on Social Security.Mark and Betty Batterbee, a retired couple from the Michiana area with 11 children, 35 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren, expressed support for Bush and voiced their concerns with the current system.”When my husband died and I remarried, I received no [Social Security] benefits,” Betty Batterbee said.”And so the money just went away – there was nothing,” Bush interjected. “I don’t think it’s a fair system. If we had personal accounts, this wouldn’t have happened.”Mark Batterbee said that Social Security helped him and his wife provide for much of their day-to-day expenses, but he was concerned for his children.”I have a great number of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and when their time comes to receive Social Security, there will be none,” Mark Batterbee said.Jon Paul Surma, 24-year-old entrepreneur and vice president of an equipment company in Rolling Prairie, Ind., said that as a young person, he was very worried about the future of Social Security.”Right now, I don’t feel an ownership – I feel like you guys are taking my money and I’m never going to get any of it,” Surma said. “And I have the worst luck in the world, so I’m probably going to die before then, and you guys are going to take more money.”At this point, Bush asked, “Do 20-year-olds care [about Social Security]?”Surma responded, “Yes,” inciting applause from the audience.In addition to Social Security, Bush touched on other issues he felt to be pertinent to his presidency, including foreign policy.”I believe deep in everybody’s soul is the desire to live in freedom,” Bush said. “Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to each person in this world – and that’s what I believe.”He then said the reactions to democratization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq were evidence of the spreading desire to live in freedom and that the leader of Syria “must understand the world is speaking with one voice – Lebanon must be free.”The president also addressed the justice system.”The scales of justice are not balanced in America – we need reform,” Bush said. “We need medical liability reform so good doctors aren’t going out of business.”Bush also mentioned the addition of 260,000 jobs to the economy last month.Before Bush spoke, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels gave a brief introduction.”Whatever one’s view of the world or political party, I hope each person will show respect for the courage he has shown as chief public executive,” Daniels said. “The president is here today to talk about an issue he so easily could have ducked.”University President-elect Father John Jenkins gave the invocation, and Indiana 2nd District Representative Chris Chocola walked up to the platform with Bush.”I’ve learned that he knows what he believes, he knows why he believes it, and he’s willing to stand up for these beliefs,” Chocola said.Chocola supported Bush’s willingness to confront the Social Security issue.”Leaders do not pass problems on to future generations,” Chocola said.Bush also joked about his honorary doctor of laws degree from Notre Dame that he received after he spoke at the University’s Commencement exercises in May 2001.”I came back as a graduate – well, kind of,” Bush said. “For all the ‘C’ students out there, it’s amazing what can happen to you.”