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The President's Radio Address

October 23, 1999

Good morning. Today I want to talk about what we must do to meet one of the critical challenges of the next century: the aging of America.

This week I sat down with congressional leaders of both parties at the White House to ask them to work with me to construct an overall framework for completing our work on the spending bills that reflect the priorities and the values of our people. The cornerstone of that framework must be paying down our debt, investing in education and other critical priorities, strengthening and modernizing Medicare, and saving Social Security for the retirement of the baby boom generation.

If we value the financial well-being of our parents and grandparents, if we believe that all Americans deserve to retire with dignity, if we want to make sure we don't place an unfair burden on the backs of the next generation of young parents, then we must seize this moment of unprecedented prosperity and budget surpluses to extend the life of Social Security.

Unfortunately, so far, instead of making the tough choices to save Social Security and extend its life to 2050, the Republican majority in Congress, especially some of the House Republican leaders, have been accusing the Democrats of spending the Social Security surplus. They've also been claiming that their budget doesn't spend the Social Security surplus.

As it happens, neither claim is true. Oh, they've used a lot of budget gimmicks—like claiming the census and ordinary Pentagon expenditures are actually emergencies—in an effort to claim they're not spending billions from the Social Security surplus. But unfortunately for their argument, their own Congressional Budget Office has said they've already spent more than $18 billion of the Social Security surplus. But the main problem is, while spending this money, their plan doesn't extend the solvency of Social Security by a single day. I think we can do better. The American people deserve more than confusion, doubletalk, and delay on this issue.

So it's time to have a clear, straightforward bill on the table, and next week I plan to present one, legislation that ensures that all Social Security payroll tax will go to savings and debt reduction for Social Security. Over 15 years, this will allow us to pay down more than $3 1/2 trillion of debt, to be debt-free as a nation for the first time since 1835 when Andrew Jackson was President.

But my plan goes further. After a decade of debt reduction from protecting Social Security funds, all the interest savings from this debt reduction will then be reinvested in Social Security, extending its solvency into the middle of the next century. This is the first big step toward truly saving Social Security. It will take the Trust Fund out beyond the lifespan of the baby boom generation—no gimmicks, no budgetary sleight of hand; just the right choices that really add up to protecting the Social Security surplus, extending the life of Social Security, and paying down the debt by 2015.

Let's remember what's at stake. Since 1935, Social Security has provided a solid foundation for retirement and lifted millions of our people out of poverty. But the number of older Americans will double as the baby boomers retire and the number of workers supporting each beneficiary will decline. Today, there are 3.4 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. By 2030, the ratio will be down to two to one. That will put a big strain on the system. If nothing is done, the Social Security Trust Fund will be completely depleted by the year 2034. We can't let that happen, and we don't have to. We can easily go back to 2050.

Social Security was created in the depths of the Depression. Today, we have the longest peacetime expansion in history, with 7 consecutive years of fiscal improvement and back-toback surpluses for the first time in 42 years. This gives us an historic opportunity and a responsibility to protect and guarantee Social Security for future generations. Again, I urge the congressional majority to put aside partisanship and achieve something of lasting value for all our people.

Thanks for listening.

NOTE: The address was recorded at 5:30 p.m. on October 22 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on October 23. The transcript was made available by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 22 but was embargoed for release until the broadcast.

William J. Clinton, The President's Radio Address Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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