Bartlett outlines his bill before Congress for keeping Social Security functioning

Plan calls for investing surplus in stock market

April 01, 1999|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett outlined for constituents last night his plan to keep Social Security bringing in more money than it pays out until 2020, about six years longer than expected.

The plan -- actually a bill sponsored by Bartlett and two other congressmen -- would invest a small portion of what is considered surplus Social Security money in the stock market. It got a mixed reaction during a town meeting in Westminster.

The Republican Bartlett's primer on Social Security also sparked lively discussion about the problems with the federal retirement program and other government programs.

"It seems out of character for you to recommend a temporary fix," said Stanley Dill of Westminster, who would like the government to let wage-earners put the money deducted for Social Security into individual savings accounts.

"I don't think the government can invest as wisely as I can invest," added Dill, who said Bartlett's plan would create more bureaucracy to manage the program and result in additional costs to taxpayers.

Bartlett and two Democratic congressmen -- Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota -- have introduced the Social Security Investment Fund bill, a stopgap measure to keep money flowing to Social Security recipients until a solution to the anticipated shortfall can be found.

By gradually investing up to 15 percent of the Social Security taxes being collected but not paid out between now and 2014, the government could earn about 5 percent more in interest per year, which would add to the money being collected, said Bartlett, who represents the 6th District.

The government has said that Social Security may dry up altogether in 2034 -- or a few years later, according to estimates reflecting the booming economy -- because its trust fund will have been spent. Bartlett called the trust fund "a giant fraud" because it is filled with IOUs instead of dollars, which the government has been using for other needs.

"This bill is a good first step that buys us precious time. It gives us six more years to find a larger solution to the problem, and it takes the money out of Washington" so it cannot be spent, Bartlett said.

Charles Stanley of Eldersburg took a moderate view of the plan, which he said was new to him. "This is a step in the right direction," he said. "You take two steps forward and one step back and finally you get where you're going. What we've got now is terrible."

Others in the audience of about 25 suggested stopping Social Security payments in 2014 and doing away with all federal entitlement programs so that everyone could receive a small monthly "dividend" from the government, payable out of tax dollars.

"The good thing is we're now talking about Social Security," Bartlett said at the end of the hourlong give-and-take. "Two or three years ago no one would dare mention it."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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