Albert Gore, Jr. photo

Remarks at the Social Security Forum at Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania

May 15, 2000

I'm here this afternoon to talk about an issue that is critical to your future, and to the future of America: maintaining America's fundamental guarantee of Social Security.

Let me begin by saying that I know some younger Americans are skeptical about the future of Social Security. And the truth is, as the Baby Boomers retire and our senior population doubles, Social Security does need to be reformed. That's why one of my central proposals in this campaign is a plan to strengthen it.

Ten years ago, we faced some pretty difficult choices about how achieve that goal. America faced giant budget deficits as far as the eye could see. We were quadrupling our national debt, and entering a deep recession.

There seemed to be no way out other than rewriting the basic guarantees of Social Security. Many thought we would have to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, or raise Social Security taxes — or even begin to privatize the system.

Today, we face a far different situation, and a far better prospect. In the last seven years, we've balanced the federal budget. We're paying down the national debt.

Some of you may know that for 11 years now, there has been a national debt clock over Times Square in New York City — put up by private citizens to keep track of our mounting debt. Back then, the debt was growing so fast that the numbers on that clock were practically a blur. Once, it had to be turned off because the numbers were changing so fast, the computer running the clock crashed.

But now, we're making so much progress toward paying down our debt, it has just been announced that the debt clock will be unplugged and removed from Times Square this fall.

Our economy is strong today. And if we keep making responsible choices, we can reform Social Security in the right way. We can reform Social Security in a way that preserves the fundamental guarantee of retirement security — and also pays down our debt, keeps our economy strong, and enables us to meet our other great challenges.

Let's understand what Social Security means to the millions of Americans who depend on it. It's more than a way to build up some extra savings. It's not just a way to make money in the stock market.

Social Security is a solemn compact between the generations. It is a basic guarantee of retirement security, built on a guaranteed minimum benefit. No matter what is happening on Wall Street, no matter how the economy is doing, Social Security is supposed to be there to guarantee a decent retirement for every American.

We know that many people can build up extra retirement savings through private investment and IRA's. That's important, and I support it. Investing in the stock market is not only good for individual Americans — it's good for America.

But that kind of private investment is meant not to replace Social Security, but to build on the foundation of Social Security. If we turn Social Security into a system of winners and losers, we will be jeopardizing retirement security for too many Americans — and in the end, we will all have to pay to make up the difference.

I've laid out a detailed plan to reform and strengthen Social Security — a plan that is based on fiscal responsibility and debt reduction.

If I'm entrusted with the Presidency, I'll balance the federal budget every year, and pay down our national debt every year — putting America on the road to becoming debt-free by the year 2013. That's the only way we can get ready to meet our obligations through Social Security.

Then I'll make sure we use the budget surplus and the money we save from paying down the debt to save Social Security first.

I'll devote all the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security trust fund. That way, we can keep Social Security solvent until at least 2050.

There is a fundamental difference on this issue in this election — which offers the country the most critical choice on Social Security since it was first enacted in 1935. Because there is a right way to reform Social Security, and a wrong way.

George W. Bush outlined his approach in a speech this morning. We still don't know all the details of his plan, but we do know that he is proposing to partially privatize Social Security.

Today, when Wall Street is booming, I know that plan sounds appealing. It probably sounds like an easy way to make more money, and have more control over your retirement.

But in reality, the Bush Social Security privatization plan would weaken our national economy — and undermine the basic guarantee of a minimum decent retirement.

It would weaken our economy because it would make it impossible to pay down our national debt. It would cost about $ 1 trillion over ten years to meet today's obligations through Social Security while allowing people to set up these individual accounts. And at the same time, Governor Bush is proposing a huge tax cut of nearly $ 2 trillion.

The numbers just don't add up -- and under the Bush plan, a serious reduction of our national debt is simply impossible. They'd have to put that debt clock back up in Times Square. By leaving us with a multi-trillion-dollar debt for as far as the eye can see, the Bush plan could trigger higher interest rates and slower long-term growth. It undermines our chance to meet other challenges, such as keeping Medicare solvent, or providing an affordable prescription drug benefit for seniors.

The Bush Social Security privatization plan also threatens the Social Security guarantee for future generations of retirees. That guarantee is the whole purpose of Social Security. Yet under the Bush plan, you could lose some or all of the money you invest — and millions could be left without enough to make ends meet.

Today, in the Dallas Morning News, Governor Bush was asked whether his plan would guarantee that future beneficiaries would receive no less than they would have under today's system. His answer? "Maybe, maybe not."

In other words, Governor Bush admits that his plan takes the "security" out of Social Security. Well, I believe you deserve a guarantee, not a "maybe."

Even if your own investments do well, it's inevitable that others won't be so lucky. Your friends, your neighbors, your relatives could be left without the retirement income they need. And if Governor Bush says: don't worry, my plan guarantees a minimum benefit even if you risk and lose some of your Social Security in bad investments, that just means a huge Savings & Loan-style bail-out to make up the difference. And the American taxpayer would end up footing a huge new bill.

Governor Bush proposes to create a semi-privatized Social Security system that could lead to greater reward for some — but far greater costs and risks for everybody. I believe we have to maintain Social Security as a bedrock guarantee of retirement security. On top of that foundation, people can and should build more — savings, investments, IRA's. But you shouldn't have to roll the dice with your basic retirement security — and you shouldn't have to pay for others who do.

That's why I am again challenging Governor Bush to debate this issue as soon as possible. We're not talking about a minor difference here. We're talking about a fundamental difference on the most successful social program in the history of this country.

I will take this issue to the American people in the weeks and months ahead, and I'm eager to have a full and open discussion today. All of you pay into Social Security; you earn it. And we as a nation have a responsibility to do what's right for all the Americans who work hard all their lives.

Albert Gore, Jr., Remarks at the Social Security Forum at Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project