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 Home > News & Policies > May 2005

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 4, 2005

President Discusses Social Security at Latino Coalition Conference
J.W. Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

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     Fact sheet In Focus: Social Security

10:31 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thanks for coming. Please be seated. Siéntese. Thank you, Hector. Thank you for the job you're doing with the Small Business Administration. Thank you all for coming today to hear this conversation about how to make sure a very important part of our society functions well for a young generation of Latinos and people from all walks of life.

President George W. Bush participates Wednesday, May 4, 2005, in a roundtable on Strengthening Social Security at the 2005 Latino Small Business Economic Conference at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.  White House photo by Eric Draper So today we're here to discuss Social Security and the importance of Social Security. And I want to thank our panelists for joining us. I want to thank the Latino Coalition for hosting this reception. As I look out in the crowd I see a lot of familiar faces and a lot of friends. It's great to see you all again. Thank you for coming.

I want to thank Roberto Deposada, the chairman and president of Latino Coalition. Thank you for hosting this event. I am honored to be joined today by -- or we are honored to be joined by the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee from Bakersfield, California. It's relevant he is here -- after all, it's his committee that is going to write the reforms necessary to make sure the Social Security system works for a younger generation of Americans. I have worked closely with Chairman Thomas on a lot of crucial issues. When he says he can get the job done, he means he can get the job done and has proven over the past five years that he can get the job done. Mr. Chairman, thank you for joining us. (Applause.)

As well, Congressman Chris Cannon, from Utah, is with us. Thank you for coming, Congressman; honored you're here.

Before I talk about Social Security, though, I want to remind you the war on terror goes on. And today's report on the capture of a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj Al-Libbi, represents a critical victory in the war on terror. (Applause.)

Al-Libbi was a top general for bin Laden. He was a major facilitator and a chief planner for the al Qaeda network. His arrest removes a dangerous enemy who was a direct threat to America and for those who love freedom.

I applaud the Pakistani government for their strong cooperation in the war on terror. I applaud the Pakistani government and President Musharraf for acting on solid intelligence to bring this man to justice. The fight continues. We'll stay on the offensive until al Qaeda is defeated. (Applause.)

Franklin Roosevelt did a wise thing when he set up the Social Security system. A lot of people throughout the last decades have counted on a Social Security check to help them in retirement. As a matter of fact, I'm sure you know people in your communities that rely upon their Social Security check completely to make sure they have dignity in their retirement. It was a wise idea to set up the system, and I am mindful that when anybody in Washington talks about Social Security, a wave of fear ripples through the senior community because they think somebody is about to take their check away.

President Bush speaks to members and attendees of the 2005 Latino Small Business Economic Conference Wednesday, May 4, 2005, at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. The economic conference brings together government officials, the country's leading Hispanic entrepreneurs and corporate America to discuss the most critical legislative issues affecting Hispanic business.  White House photo by Eric Draper So I want to open my comments to you all to assure you that your loved ones who count on Social Security will get their check. Nothing will change for today's seniors who are getting a Social Security check. If you -- as a matter of fact, if you were born prior to 1950, nothing will change. The system is solvent enough to keep its promises. And that's very important for people to hear. So when you hear all these ads and propaganda saying, well, you know, talk about making sure the Social Security system is modern and seniors are not going to get your check, just know it's not true and please assure seniors it's not true, because it's not.

The safety net will work for them, but there is a hole in the safety net for a younger generation of Americans coming up. And here's why -- first, let me just describe the nature of the system, and that is it's a pay-as-you-go system. You pay in payroll taxes and the government takes care of retirees, and with money left over, spends it on other programs. And all that is left is a file cabinet with IOUs. See, some in our country believe that the system works this way: you pay in the system, we hold your money for you, and when you retire, we give it back to you. That's not the way it works. It's a pay-as-you-go system.

Now, the reason there's a hole in the safety net for people who are going to be paying into the pay-as-you-go system is because there are a lot of people getting ready to retire. We are called "baby boomers." I happen to be one. I'm retiring in four years. At least I'm eligible for my retirement. (Laughter.) I turn 62 in four years. There are about 75 million baby boomers who will be retired when it's all said and done. There are 40 million baby boomers -- I mean, retirees today. So think about that. We have 40 million retirees today, and in relatively quick order, there's going to be over 70 million retirees. We've got a lot more people that younger workers are going to have to pay for.

Secondly, we are living longer. I plan to live a long time. (Laughter.) It's why I'm exercising a lot. (Laughter.) It's why I'm making right choices about what I put in my body, and I suggest all Americans exercise more and be wise about what you eat and what you drink. It'll help you live longer, they tell me.

But a lot of us are going to live longer. And we've been promised greater benefits than the previous generation. So if you're a younger worker out there, you're now looking at more people retiring, who will be living longer -- in other words, you have to keep paying more monthly benefits over time, who've been promised greater monthly benefits. And there's going to be fewer of you paying into the system. In 1950, there were 16 workers for every beneficiary. Today, there is 3.3 workers for every beneficiary. In short order there will be two workers for every beneficiary. So young workers are going to be paying for more people, living longer, getting greater benefits. And the pay-as-you-go system goes negative in 2017. In other words, there's more money going out than coming in. And in -- and every year it gets worse. That's just the way it's going to work.

And so in 2027, you're going to be $200 billion in the hole, for example, it will be $300 billion in the 2030s, and the system is going to be broke in 2041. So you've got people who are starting to pay into the system now, who are paying into a system that's not going to be around. And I don't want to make younger workers a lot of -- nervous in America. The people who ought not to be nervous are the older Americans. You're going to get your check. It's the people paying for baby boomers like me who are going to retire who ought to be paying attention to this issue, because the system is insolvent.

So I have an obligation to encourage Congress to act. And Chairman Thomas knows what I'm about to say: the longer we wait, the more expensive it's going to be. If Congress chooses to do nothing on this problem, you're either going to have to raise your payroll tax to, some estimate, 18 percent, or cut benefits dramatically by 30 percent. So now is the time to get after it, in my judgment.

Obviously felt that way because in the State of the Union I spent a lot of time talking about it, and subsequently have spent a lot of time talking about it. I'm going to continue traveling our country making it clear to people we've got a problem, because, see, once they figure out we've got a problem, the next course of action is going to be to say to Congress, how come you're not doing anything about it? How come you're allowing partisan politics to prevent good people from coming together to solve the problem?

I have an obligation to put some things on the table, and I've been doing that. First, I believe that future generations must receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits of today's seniors. Secondly, I believe this country needs to set a goal that says if you've worked all your life and if you paid into the retirement system to Social Security, you should not retire in poverty. To me, that's a noble goal. Frankly, it's the kind of goal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would strongly support.

And so in my press conference the other night, I proposed a way of calculating future benefits for future retirees that says, if you're a low-income worker, your benefits ought to raise -- rise with wage increases, and if you're an upper-income worker, your benefits ought to rise with inflation. Seems fair to me. Seems like a noble calling for the United States of America, to recognize a lot of people work really hard and don't make a lot of money, but when it comes time to retire, there ought to be dignity in retirement. I also believe that younger workers -- and by the way, what -- that plan alone, that part of a plan, solves the majority of the solvency issue for a generation of Americans coming up.

In other words, what I'm talking about, making sure that we permanently solve the Social Security problem can be done. And I have an obligation to advance the process by putting out some ideas that I think are important. And I want to thank Chairman Thomas for his willingness to work with us on this issue, and I'll work with him on this issue.

Now I want to talk about something else that I think the country ought to consider, and this pertains to younger workers. I think younger workers -- first of all, younger workers have been promised benefits the government -- promises that have been promised, benefits that we can't keep. That's just the way it is. And I believe I have the duty as the President to be willing to confront that fact, to tell people the truth. The younger people in America got to understand that. We've given you promises we just can't keep.

But one way to make a permanent solution to Social Security system a better deal is to allow younger workers to take some of your own money and set it aside in a personal savings account that you can call your own. And the reason why that's important is because if you watch your money grow at a reasonable rate of interest, you know it compounds over time. There's a compound rate of interest, which means money grows and grows, bigger and bigger and bigger. For example, if you're making a $35,000 all your life, and you're allowed to take a third of your payroll taxes and set it aside in a conservative mix of bonds and stocks that have a reasonable rate of return, then when you get ready to retire, you'll have $250,000 as part of a retirement plan. You'll get your Social Security check, whatever the government can afford, plus money off of your nest egg.

Money grows. And the current system doesn't encourage, doesn't take advantage of compound interest. And so step one is, letting a younger person own their own -- manage their own money in a conservative mix of bonds and stocks will mean you get a better deal on your own money. This payroll tax is your money. And the government ought to say you get a better deal on your money, and you can watch it grow.

Secondly, I like people owning something. The more people own assets, the better off America is. I reject this notion that the investor class is limited to only a certain kind of person. The more moms and dads accumulate assets, the better off it is for American families. I want more people being able to say, this is mine, the government can't take it away, the government can't spend it, it's not a part of a pay-as-you-go system. And when you pass away, you can leave it to whomever you choose. That's a part of America. And more people that have that -- (applause.)

This idea, I think, is fair. It means you get a better deal on your own money. It's fair; it encourages ownership. Listen, the system today is a lousy deal for widows. The way it works today is if you and your spouse are working and one of you dies early, then the spouse upon retiring gets to choose the survivor benefits that your spouse has paid into the system, or you own benefits, which is ever higher, but not both. So think about that. Somebody may have died at age 52, started working at age 22, worked 30 years and put all that money in the system, and his or her spouse ends up having to choose, to decide what retirement account he or she wants -- the one she contributed to or the one he contributed to, but not both. In other words, the money goes away.

In a personal savings account, as you watch your money grow, a worker sets aside money in an asset base. That asset can go to help the widow or the surviving spouse. The system isn't fair today. And we need to make it fair. And we can make it more fair for people at the lower end of the income scale.

Now, I want to -- and during this conversation some things will come out that I think probably -- hopefully some questions will come out that are on your mind.

I want to address a couple of things. One, I understand there is a need for more financial literacy in America, and so I've instructed the FDIC and the SBA and the Treasury Department to work with the Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Chamber and other groups to help make sure that financial literacy is more widespread in all neighborhoods and all communities. (Applause.) FDIC has got the money smart financial workshop program. They're going to work with the Latino Coalition. SBA has got a negocios.gov program on the web page. Treasury has got all kinds of financial learning materials that we can spread out, and we need your help.

Secondly, what I'm talking about, though, is happening in America already. In other words, I'm not inventing something new to say to somebody, you can invest your own money. When I was coming up, there wasn't a lot of talk about 401(k)s or IRAs. There wasn't any. And today -- yesterday I had an interesting experience. I went down to the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, and it was a very diverse audience, a lot of assembly-line workers. And I said, how many of you all have got your own 401(k)? I mean, the number of hands that went up was astounding. You've got people from all walks of life managing their money already. People are getting used to it.

Matter of fact, this was such a good idea that the United States Congress a while ago decided in the Thrift Savings Plan, the Federal Thrift Savings Plan, to allow federal workers -- members of the United States Congress and members of the United States Senate -- to manage their own personal account. See, and the reason why is, I'm confident they took a look at the rate of return a government can get versus the rate of return that you can get in a conservative mix of bonds and stocks, and decided they want their money to grow -- they want to watch their money grow faster, than that available to the government, and so they said, they just decided we'll get to do this, too.

If it is good enough for a member of the United States Congress to set aside some of his or her own money in a personal savings account so they get a better rate of return, they can pass it on to whomever they want, it ought to be good enough for workers all across the United States of America. (Applause.)

I am honored to be joined by Fidel Vargas today. Fidel is an interesting man. He's already been a -- he's 36 and he's already been a mayor of a California city. Did a fine job there.

You know, when I first got elected, I recognized that the Social Security issue is going to be an issue that was going to require some -- some sound thought and reasoning. People needed to be coming together to help think about this issue. And so I set up a commission. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former Senator from New York, Democrat Senator, was the chairman of it, and I asked Fidel to join.

And welcome, Fidel. Thanks for coming. He is a -- well, you'll see. He knows what he's talking about.

* * * * *

MR. VARGAS: And I'm a little embarrassed to say, but I think I'll share with the President that the first time he ran, I didn't vote for the President. So excuse me for that, sir. But I'm sure -- (laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I understand a lot of other people didn't, either. (Laughter and applause.)

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Great job, thanks for coming. (Applause.) The fact that you went to Harvard bothers me more than the fact that you didn't vote for me. (Laughter.)

MR. VARGAS: We both went to HBS.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right. I forgot that part. (Laughter.) Good job. Thanks for coming.

The message here is really important, that it doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat on this issue, what matters is, do you care about the future of the country, and are you willing to set aside partisanship and work in a constructive way to get something done?

If you're a senior, you're going to get your check. You know what's happening now? A lot of grandmothers and grandfathers, when they finally absorb that message, are beginning to say, what about my grandkids; Mr. President, it seems like a big problem coming for them, what are you going to do about? And now is the time to do something about.

Fidel, I appreciate your tone, I appreciate your constructive work on this issue. Thanks for coming.

Our next guest is Russell Ybarra. He's United Nations Tejano.

MR. YBARRA: A true Tejano.

THE PRESIDENT: A true Tejano. Those are the best kind. (Laughter and applause.)

A businessman -- tell everybody what you do, Russell.

MR. YBARRA: Well, first of all, yes, I was born and raised in the Lone Star state, so we're neighbors.

THE PRESIDENT: Very good.

MR. YBARRA: Again, my name is Russell Ybarra, and I tell people the first three words I learned in Spanish was lechuga, tomate you cebolla, because that was the order we put them on the tacos at my family's restaurant when I was growing up. (Laughter.) So, anyway, I'm the President and CEO of Gringo's Mexican Kitchen. We operate six stores in the Houston area and one in San Antonio.

THE PRESIDENT: Good. How are you doing? Making a little --

MR. YBARRA: We're paying our taxes -- on time. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: How about your ownership? You paying any of that?

MR. YBARRA: A little bit.

THE PRESIDENT: A little bit, that's good. Well, in other words, you're in business.

MR. YBARRA: Exactly.

THE PRESIDENT: That's good.

MR. YBARRA: We have a duty.

* * * * *

MR. YBARRA: Again, the 401(k) program in the food service industry is an exception, not the rule. And I thought, okay, we have a 401(k) program implemented, in place, and so we should just have everybody lining up to join the plan. Well, it didn't work out that way. We have very low participation -- and for good reason: many of those that work for us are what you would consider low-wage earners.

THE PRESIDENT: Can't afford the contribution.

MR. YBARRA: Right. Exactly.

THE PRESIDENT: -- payroll tax.

MR. YBARRA: Well, and that's just it. They're already paying 12.4 percent, basically, and have little or no disposable income to set aside for future retirement. So this really impacts them dramatically.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: The best thing is to let them take their payroll taxes they're paying the system and have a plan that allows their money to grow just like a 401(k) can. That's the best thing to do for low-income workers. That's why the Social Security reform is a vital reform for people at the lower end of the wage scale. It's really important.

Anyway, go ahead. Sorry to interrupt.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Right. Remember, and this is important for people to hear, this is not the government saying, you have to do this. This is government saying, if you so choose to set aside some of your own money, you ought to be allowed to do so. It's optional. It basically says that government is not going to dictate, government just says, here's an option to trust people with their own money.

And a couple of points I want to make on Russell. One, the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in America; we need to keep it that way. Congratulations on starting your own business.

MR. YBARRA: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: This is a chance -- you volunteered to come up here, so anybody listening on C-SPAN in the Houston area, looking for a good restaurant, Russell -- (laughter and applause.)

MR. YBARRA: I'm currently, also, the Greater Houston Restaurant Association President.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, good, yes.

MR. YBARRA: And I don't know if you know this or not, but the National Restaurant Association endorses your plan.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks. I appreciate it.

If you're making $8 an hour over your life, and you start having a personal account when you're 21 years old, and at the age 63 you'll end up with a $100,000 nest egg. That's if you stay at $8 all your life. In other words, that's how money grows. Wouldn't it be fantastic if a lot of folks who work for Russell's company were able to say, here's my money, here's the nest egg I built up for my family.

The more ownership there is, the more assets passed on to a community, the better off the community is going to be. And the idea of owning something ought to be spread throughout all America. That's the great promise of America. That's what we're all about. You come here, you work hard, you realize your dreams, and you have a chance to build something for your family.

How many people -- you said your dad and mom came. I suspect there's a lot of first-generation of Americans here because their parents came over here because of dreams and hopes.

By the way, speaking about restaurant employees, we've got to have a rational policy when it comes to immigrants coming to this country. I believe if there's -- somebody is willing to employ somebody and they can't find an American worker, and somebody is willing to do the job, we ought to make that connection a legal connection. People come here to work. (Applause.)

And this, by the way, will make our borders more secure. As opposed to people having to get in the back of 18-wheelers and sneaking across, you know, Texas borders, or trying to walk across the desert to find work, if you've got a pass that says, I'm a willing worker willing to work for a willing employer, it means they can just walk across normally and not have to try to sneak across. We'll be able to defeat a whole industry of document forgers and smugglers and coyotes, and it means we'll be able to uphold the dignity of persons around the world. (Applause.)

Anyway, it's called diverting off the topic. Por nada.

MR. YBARRA: One last point, Mr. President, and I think this is a profound one. The underlying benefit of what you're proposing is a lot like what we did with our core beliefs, reinvesting in our associates and local community. I feel by doing this, the American productivity will increase dramatically.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Well, basically, what he's just said is, if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future. I mean, think about how great it's going to be when Jos and Jessica, as they have an investment account -- they're young, new married -- we're about to talk to them here -- but on a monthly basis, a quarterly basis, daily basis in some cases, you watch your assets grow. You open up a statement and say, here is what I own. That encourages people. If they're seeing something they own grow, that the government can't take away from them, it encourages. And it will enhance productivity, and it will enhance the spirit in a lot of communities.

Good job. Thank you, Russell.

MR. YBARRA: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: It's great to see you. (Applause.)

Jos . Jos and Jessica, welcome. Thank you all. Newlyweds?

MS. GOMEZ: No, five years.

THE PRESIDENT: See, not newlyweds. (Laughter.) I'm glad you're here. Give us a sense of who you are, what you're doing.

MR. GOMEZ: It's an honor to be here with you. My name is Jos Gomez. This is my lovely wife, Jessica. We've been married for almost five years. We have three beautiful kids. I currently attend DeVry University. I'm a full-time student.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes? What are you studying?

MR. GOMEZ: I'm studying network system administrator.

THE PRESIDENT: Network systems administrator. Would you like to try to describe what that means to the technologically illiterate? (Laughter.)

MR. GOMEZ: Basically, I will be taking care of a network in a business, or something. But I, personally, want to own my own business.

THE PRESIDENT: Want to own your own business? That's great.

MR. GOMEZ: Yes, I want to start my own business later on, in the future.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you have any idea what it's going to be yet, or are you just getting the skills necessary --

MR. GOMEZ: Still getting the skills --

THE PRESIDENT: -- and the confidence necessary to launch?

MR. GOMEZ: That's correct, that's what I'm currently --

THE PRESIDENT: That's wonderful, though, isn't it? A guy sits up here with the President: I want to own my own business. (Laughter and applause.) You may take a few tips from Russell.

MR. GOMEZ: Currently I work in a job part-time, and they don't offer the 401(k). And I work basically on a check-to-check basis.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

MR. GOMEZ: What I like about your plan is, it will give me the opportunity to start saving and looking for the future, for our retirement, and if we choose to, pass it on to our kids for a nest egg.

THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting thought. You've got three little kids. Jessica, you want --

MS. GOMEZ: I have three beautiful children: Joslynn, who is four; Jovanni, who is two; and Isabella who is one.

THE PRESIDENT: Good, I'm looking forward to meeting them afterwards.

MS. GOMEZ: They're looking forward to it, too. I worry more about their future, as any other mother does. I worry about that if the system continues the way it is, as you said before, by the time they work, they're going to be working twice as hard to take care of us when we retire.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right.

MS. GOMEZ: So that when they -- it's time for them to retire, they're going to be just be so worn out, they're not going to -- they're going to be broke, both emotionally and financially.

THE PRESIDENT: Interesting thought, isn't it? Mom is sitting here, saying, I've watched -- listened to the data. So the system starts to go broke 2017; 2041, as Fidel said, there's nothing left. And she's got little kids. She's going to be paying into that system, and so are they. It's a troublesome thought for moms and dads to think about the system as it is, and it's got to be just as troublesome to think that the government is not -- hasn't done anything about it. Now is the time to do something about it.

You know, a lot -- I talk to a lot of young folks, like Jos and Jessica. There was an interesting survey once that somebody pointed out to me, that said younger people think it's more likely they're going to see a UFO than get a Social Security check. (Laughter.)

Well, if you feel that way, and you watch that money come out of your check every month, it's a little discouraging, isn't it? To be paying into something that you're not sure is going to be around. Yes, so this is a young person issue. Older people, the grandmas and granddads, they don't have a thing to worry about. We're going to keep the promise. But it's the youngsters who are working hard, and the moms and dads who are working hard, and the moms and dads who are worried about their children when they're coming up, that's what this issue is about, folks.

And it is amazing to me that we're living in a town where people oftentimes say, well, we can't cooperate with each other because of party politics. You heard a good Democrat sit up here and say he believes a reformed system will help his children and his community. That's the spirit that's needed. And we here in Washington, we need to think about people like Jessica and Jos , young kids, working hard, wants to start his business, got young kids, mom sitting up here saying, I'm worried about it. She's really saying this: You people in government, how come you can't do nothing about it -- or anything about it? (Laughter and applause.)

I've learned to correct myself early before it gets on the record. (Laughter.) Fortunately, the First Lady is not here. (Laughter.) She'd probably have some joke about it. (Laughter.)

Anyway, thank you all for coming. Is there anything else you want to add? Well, I appreciate you letting us use you as an example, looking forward to meeting the kids.

MS. GOMEZ: Thank you for letting us be here.

MR. GOMEZ: Thanks for letting us come on.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks for coming. Our final guest is Elizabeth Fernandez. Elizabeth, welcome. Tell us what you do.

* * * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's an important concept -- sorry to interrupt, but you're right. To run up the payroll tax rate is going to hurt a lot of small businesses. One of the things we're always be mindful of in Washington is how do you make sure the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. And one way to make sure it's not strong is to overtax the small businesses. And so I appreciate you bringing the payroll taxes in, it's a significant burden on many small businesses. And it's really -- really an important point. Thank you.

* * * * *

MS. FERNANDEZ: I don't know -- do you have a financial literacy program, an education program set up to help --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we do. That's the -- FDIC, Treasury Department, SBA are very much involved with making sure people feel comfortable -- I appreciate you bringing that up again, Elizabeth -- people feel comfortable about what it means to invest. I recognize, some people get nervous about it. You heard a Harvard man said he got -- if he'd gone to Yale, he wouldn't have been so nervous. (Laughter.) But he said -- no, but it's a new thing -- you know, some worry about it, but people need to be assured that there are thousands of their fellow citizens who are comfortable now investing their own money. They hadn't been doing it in the past.

In other words, there's a new culture in America today. A lot of older Americans are saying, well, this is too difficult for some, perhaps. But there's a lot of younger Americans who are getting comfortable with managing their money through a series of programs, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, to find contribution plans.

And so -- but you're right. We need to make sure people become more financially literate. And by the way, in terms of what you can invest in, you cannot take your money to the lottery. In other words, there's a conservative mix of bonds and stocks. And there are people to explain what it means. And you get to decide. If you're a younger worker, you may decide to have a more -- a greater mix of stocks and bonds. As you get older, you may decide to diversify. But you're constantly making decisions for your own money.

The government doesn't make those decisions for you. The government makes options available for you. And then when it comes time to retire, you can go into a Treasury bond account -- a perfectly safe investment, all of which, by the way, all those investment vehicles yield a better rate of return than you're getting on the government's money.

I remember campaigning with John McCain on this issue, and he said that his thrift savings account -- I think he said something like 7 percent rate of return on the money, as money grew over time. And that's compared to 1.8 percent in the current Social Security system. And that 5.2 percent difference in interest makes a huge amount of money, makes a huge difference for you in the amount of money available over time.

So thanks for bringing it up. Elizabeth, anything else on your mind? You're awfully articulate. (Laughter.)

MS. HERNANDEZ: No, I just -- thank you for the opportunity to be able to share concerns, and thank you for your efforts in this area.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the things that Elizabeth said that triggered a thought here is she said this is a complex issue, there's a lot of misinformation. And I understand that. There's a lot of moving parts, as they say -- which says to me, I better keep working on it. And I'm going to. I'm just getting started. (Applause.) This is an issue that -- I'm going to spend a lot of time talking about this issue. I will spend as much time as necessary.

Congress has an obligation to act. I appreciate you saying I brought up an issue that I didn't need to bring up. I needed to bring it up, that's my job. The President's job is to -- when he sees a problem, is to say, let's deal with it, not to shirk the duty, not to pass it on.

Fidel mentioned President Clinton -- he started the process. I remember watching the town hall meeting you all had in Albuquerque in 1996, I think it was, and it was a fascinating discussion. Michael Boskin, who I think was on the commission then -- I remember Mike, my buddy, talking about it. And I can't remember if you presented there, or not.

MR. VARGAS: I was there.

THE PRESIDENT: Did you present?

MR. VARGAS: No.

THE PRESIDENT: Whew! (Laughter.) I thought I might have dissed you there for a minute. (Laughter.) But my only point is, is that that's what the President does. The President confronts problems. And now is the time to take this problem on.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for being here. Chairman Thomas would not be here if he didn't realize this was a very vital issue to people from all walks of life. And he wouldn't be here if he didn't believe that it was important to work together in a collaborative spirit to get something done. And so thank you for letting us advance the issue. I appreciate you providing the forum. I'm honored our panelists came here. Thank you all for being here again.

May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our country. (Applause.)

END 11:22 A.M. EDT