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 Home > News & Policies > May 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 2, 2001

Remarks by the President in Social Security Announcement
The Rose Garden

listenListen to the President's Remarks

10:27 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming. Members of the newly-formed Social Security Commission, I want to thank you all for being here. And I want to thank your family members who are here, as well.

Social Security is one of the greatest achievements of the American government, and one of the deepest commitments to the American people. For more than six decades it has protected our elderly against poverty and assured young people of a more secure future. It must continue to do this important work for decades to come.

Yet, it has been apparent for many years that Social Security, itself, is becoming insecure. Social Security was designed for an era when few Americans lived much past the age of 65, and when families of three or four children were more than the exception.

When Social Security was created there was about 40 workers paying Social Security taxes for every one retiree receiving benefits. Today, there are three workers for every retiree; soon, there will be two. Long life is a blessing. Smaller families are an individual choice. But the consequence of this blessing and this choice is that the Social Security payroll tax, which was once 2 percent, has now passed 12 percent.

Economists calculate that it will have to rise past 18 percent if the baby boomers are to receive the same benefits that Social Security has promised, unless we take steps soon to reform the way Social Security is financed.

The threat to the stability of Social Security has been apparent for decades. For years, political leaders have agreed that something must be done. But nothing has been done. We can postpone action no longer. Social Security is a challenge now; if we fail to act, it will become a crisis. We must save Social Security and we now have the opportunity to do so.

Our government will run large budget surpluses over the next 10 years. These surpluses provide an opportunity to move to a stronger Social Security system. Two months ago, in my address to Congress, I described the principles that must guide any reform of Social Security. First, Social Security reform must preserve the benefits of all current retirees and those nearing retirement.

Second, Social Security reform must return the Social Security system to sound financial footing. Third, Social Security reform must offer personal savings accounts to younger workers who want them. Today, young workers who pay into Social Security might as well be saving their money in their mattresses. That's how low the return is on their contributions. And the return will only decline further -- maybe even below zero -- if we do not proceed with reform.

Personal savings accounts will transform Social Security from a government IOU into personal property and real assets; property that workers will own in their own names and that they can pass along to their children. Ownership, independence, access to wealth should not be the privilege of a few. They're the hope of every American, and we must make them the foundation of Social Security.

Today, I am naming a Presidential Commission to turn these principles into concrete reforms. This task is not easy, but the mandate is clear: strengthen Social Security and make its promise more certain and valuable for generations to come. I have asked the Commission to deliver its report later this fall.

Social Security does not belong to any one political party, so the Commission is drawn from both parties. Social Security does not belong to the government or to the politicians, and so my Commission has members from many different walks of life. It will be chaired by two outstanding Americans: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Richard Parsons, of AOL-Time Warner.

Senator Moynihan has been aptly described as the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln, and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson. A profound mind, a compassionate heart and a far-seeing imagine have distinguished him throughout his career.

Our task today is to preserve what is the best in Social Security, while updating it, and for a new time. And nobody will do that job better than this great student of Social Security's history, and stalwart champion of Social Security's principles.

As Co-Chief Operating Officer of AOL-Time Warner, Richard Parsons is one of the leaders of this nation's Information Age economy. Few people have served more tours of duty in the American government and business; a senior aide in the Ford administration; managing partner of a distinguished law firm; CEO of a major savings bank, before becoming president of Time Warner.

Mr. Parsons serves his community as ably as he's served his country. He chairs the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, where he mobilized the creativity of the private sector to bring jobs and opportunity to people in need. And he sits on the boards of Howard University and the Lincoln Center.

Richard Parsons represents in our time the spirit of business statesmanship at its highest. Fourteen other fine Americans have joined the Moynihan-Parsons Commission; seven of them are Republicans and seven are Democrats. They include a former aide to Robert Kennedy and a former aide to Ronald Reagan; political leaders, entrepreneurs, eminent experts on the Social Security system.

Every one of these fine men and women is passionately committed to the safety, success and long-term security of Social Security.

I'm giving this Commission a great task and its members have my full faith. When it makes its report, the Congress and I will face some serious decisions, but we must be inspired by the example of the founder of Social Security, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In his Fireside Chat of September 1934, shortly before Congress enacted Social Security, he warned that there will always be those frightened by boldness and cowed by the necessity for making decisions. They will complain, he said, that all we have done is unnecessary and subject to great risks.

But now, as then, bold action and serious decisions are necessary and we in our time must rededicate ourselves to the great ideal Roosevelt defined 67 years ago: greater freedom and greater security for the average man than he has ever known before in the history of America. That's our charge and we must keep it.

And now, one of the Co-Chairmen of this Commission, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (Applause.)

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: I now have the honor of signing the commission into being.

(The executive order was signed.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)

END 10:38 A.M. EDT