Safeguarding Social Security not a partisan issue

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Nebraska's U.S. Senators -- past and present -- can be an example for the nation when it comes to political problem-solving. This is shown by the latest debate, raging among Democrats and Republicans following the unveiling of Sen. Chuck Hagel's plan to revamp Social Security.

Several top Democrats immediately attacked Hagel's plan, with Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts saying the Nebraska senator's call for private accounts would be "a great threat" to senior citizens because it would raise interest rates. More criticism is expected to come today when a group of Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, hold a press conference to address Hagel's plan.

In contrast, Nebraska's present and past Democratic senators, Ben Nelson and Bob Kerrey, spoke with calm and reason about Hagel's proposal. Nelson, a McCook native who has maintained a centrist position in his first term in the Senate, declared: "We need to keep all the options on the table." Then, as a compliment to Hagel, Nelson added: "Putting a plan on paper is bold and ambitious."

Similar thoughts were expressed by former Sen. Kerrey, who said: "High praise to Sen. Hagel for putting something on the table. He risks criticism on the details, but that's a risk more members should be taking."

The compliments do not necessarily mean agreement. Take Kerrey for example. While complimenting Hagel for putting forward a plan, Kerrey questioned Hagel's call for personal investment accounts, saying they would draw money out of Social Security at a time of large federal deficits.

But, the point is, Kerrey, Nelson and Hagel are approaching the debate in a reasonable way. Hagel's Social Security plan is a starting point ... not necessarily the final answer. Sen. Hagel says so himself, telling fellow Senators Monday that he wasn't holding his bill up as the only way to address Social Security. "It is one way," he said. "I think my bill is a common sense, responsible and fiscally accountable place to start."

And he's right. In a move that has been called gutsy, Hagel is proposing raising the full retirement eligibility age from 67 to 68. He is also recommending that retirement benefits be reduced from 70 percent to 63 percent for those who choose to take their Social Security at age 62. His plan also differs from President Bush's in that it would limit the 4 percent private accounts to persons 44 and under, instead of those under age 55, as the president is proposing.

The campaign to safeguard Social Security is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. It is an American issue. That's why we are encouraged by the way Sen. Hagel, Sen. Nelson and former Sen. Kerrey are approaching the issue. We hope their cooperative approach can inspire lawmakers to craft a Social Security solution which will serve this nation for generations to come.

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