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Issues of Our Times

Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM

Random Thoughts:

In last week's commentary, I laid out a plan for a Democratic victory in the November 2006 national elections. My premise was that Bush-bashing, which appears to be the official Democratic policy, is the wrong strategy for winning control over the two Houses of Congress.

Instead, I conveyed my belief that to win in November it will be necessary to attract voters back to the Democratic Party by restating and reaffirming the Party's commitment to the core policy positions that it has been identified with since FDR.

Today I'd like to discuss two of those issues at greater length, and provide my views as to where the Party should stand in implementing the goals of each.

Let's start with the miracle of Social Security, which, through the years, has been a major asset for the Democratic party.

Born in 1935, the Social Security program - the average person's pension - created for low and middle income Americans the idea that at age 65 people who had worked during their adult years would be able to live and retire in reasonable comfort on their Social Security checks along with other kinds of savings and investments.

A major improvement in the Social Security legislation was an amendment effective in 1975 which provided for annual cost of living adjustments. I was in the Congress at that time and voted for the proposal offered by then Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Wilbur Mills.

It provided an automatic increase in payments to retirees to compensate for inflation. But for years now, many Americans currently working have been worried that the Social Security fund would go broke before they were eligible to retire, and they would not be able to collect full benefits in the future.

Social Security is not a true pension actuarially fully funded. The government pays each beneficiary from current Social Security taxes collected from both employers and employees. In Social Security's early years, there were 22 workers paying into the Social Security fund for every person retired and receiving Social Security checks.

Today there are only 3.3 workers for each retiree, but it is still possible to pay the full benefits out of current revenues. However, by the year 2042, it is estimated that current revenues would pay only 80 percent of the cost of benefits at that time.

In a foolish effort to divert the public's attention from the real problems causing the pending deficits, presidential advisor Karl Rove proposed to the president, who accepted it, the concept of a private account for each employee into which Social Security funds would be diverted, which in turn could be invested in the stock market, under a supervision not yet fully determined.

The public, much smarter than Rove assumed, rejected the idea, and it was abandoned by the president. According to a New York Times article of April 20th, Rove "gave up day-to-day control over the administration's domestic policy to concentrate on the midterm elections [but] will retain his title as a deputy chief of staff, as well as his catch-all designation as Mr. Bush's senior adviser."

To deal with the underlying problems of funding Social Security with an aging workforce and fewer people contributing to the plan, the Democratic Party must address the funding for the future and the guarantee that all workers can look forward to receiving the benefits they are entitled to when they reach retirement.

The only responsible ways to make that happen are to reduce the benefits somewhat, increase the age of retirement (which has been done in part, but not to the extent needed), and increase the rate of tax or include in taxable income so-called "unearned" income such as stocks, bonds and interest. All of these proposed solutions may not be needed, but some combination will be required.

It is incumbent upon the Democratic Party to immediately create a commission of the best, most knowledgeable people, such as Peter Peterson, Felix Rohatyn, John Breaux, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan to examine the problem and propose a plan for the Democratic Party to agree upon and adopt.

A second major and controversial issue is that of abortion.

I support Roe v. Wade. I also oppose the abortion technique known as partial-birth abortion (allowing the fetus in birth to leave the mother's body up to its neck and then crushing the head of the fetus within her body, withdrawing the whole fetus from her body).

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that Congress can prohibit the use of the procedure, except where it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

That decision makes sense.

Every effort by the Congress to enact the prohibition has failed because there was no exception for the mother's health. Members of Congress enacted legislation believing they have the right by law to say the mother's health is never at such a risk as to justify the use of the procedure.

If health of the mother is not defined, it would mean effectively no limitation on the use of the procedure.

It would be reasonable and responsible to limit the exception to the need to protect the mother's childbearing ability, excluding other health issues. The mother's life is paramount, trumping all other considerations.

Where her health is involved requiring a late-term abortion for psychiatric or other medical conditions, the abortion can be achieved through the other surgical techniques available and now employed by physicians.

In future commentaries I will continue my discussion on other major issues in the 2006 election campaign.

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Random Thoughts: In last week's commentary, I laid out a plan for a Democratic victory in the November 2006 national elections. My premise was that Bush-bashing, which appears to be the official Democratic policy, is the wrong strategy for winning control over the two...
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Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM
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