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Letter to Congressional Leaders on the Social Security System

May 21, 1981

Dear _____________ :

Over the past several weeks, all Americans have been proud of the bipartisan spirit that we have created in working on the nation's economic recovery. Today I am writing to you to ask that we now bring that same spirit to bear on another issue threatening our public welfare.

As you know, the Social Security System is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Over the next five years, the Social Security trust fund could encounter deficits of up to $111 billion, and in the decades ahead its unfunded obligations could run well into the trillions. Unless we in government are willing to act, a sword of Damocles will soon hang over the welfare of millions of our citizens.

Last week, Secretary Richard Schweiker presented a series of Administration proposals that we believe are sound, sensible solutions, both in the short and long term. We recognize that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have alternative answers. This diversity is healthy—so long as it leads to constructive debate and then to an honest legislative response.

As Secretary Schweiker has pointed out on several occasions, we believe that all of us owe an obligation to our senior citizens to work together on this issue. This Administration is not wedded to any single solution; this Administration welcomes the opportunity to consult with Congress and with private groups on this matter. Our sole commitment—and it is a commitment we will steadfastly maintain—is to three basic principles:

—First, this nation must preserve the integrity of the Social Security trust fund and the basic benefit structure that protects older Americans.

—Second, we must hold down the tax burden on the workers who support Social Security.

—Finally, we must eliminate all abuses in the system that can rob the elderly of their rightful legacy.

It is clear that the half-actions of the past are no longer sufficient for the future. It is equally clear that we must not let partisan differences or political posturing prevent us from working together.

Therefore, I have today asked Secretary Schweiker to meet with you and other leaders of the Congress as soon as possible to launch a bipartisan effort to save Social Security. I have also asked him to make the full resources of his department available for this undertaking. And of course, you can count on my active support of this effort.

None of us can afford to underestimate the seriousness of the problems facing Social Security. For generations of Americans, the future literally rests upon our actions. This should be a time for statesmanship of the highest order, and I know that no one shares that desire more strongly than you.

With every good wish,



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker, Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd, House Majority Leader Jim Wright, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to Congressional Leaders on the Social Security System Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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