Greenspan urges cutting Social Security, Medicare; Sees need for quick action as baby boomers retire

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Date: Aug. 28, 2004
Publisher: North Jersey Media Group
Document Type: Article
Length: 469 words

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JACKSON, Wyo. - Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday the country will face "abrupt and painful" choices unless Congress acts quickly to trim Social Security and Medicare benefits for the baby boom generation. He said the government has promised more than it can deliver.

Returning to a politically explosive issue just before the Republican National Convention, Greenspan said the country must face up to "some tough policy choices."

Government resources even under the most optimistic economic assumptions on growth and productivity will be inadequate to provide baby boomers with the level of benefits their parents got, he said.

Speaking at a two-day conference sponsored by the Kansas City Federal Reserve on challenges posed by an aging population, Greenspan said policymakers must address the looming crisis in Social Security and Medicare before the first wave of 77 million U.S. baby boomers begin retiring later this decade.

"We owe it to our retirees to promise only the benefits that can be delivered," he said. "If we have promised more than our economy has the ability to deliver ... as I fear we may have, we must recalibrate our public programs so that pending retirees have time to adjust through other channels."

And he warned, "If we delay, the adjustments could be abrupt and painful."

"Curbing benefits once bestowed has proved difficult in the past," he noted, so the government must be careful about enacting any new benefits. Congress last year, at President Bush's urging, passed a new prescription drug benefit expected to cost more than $540 billion in the next 10 years.

The 78-year-old Greenspan, recently confirmed for a fifth term as Fed chairman, suggested one possible fix would be to increase the retirement age for receiving full benefits. It is already scheduled to rise from 65 to 67. Greenspan has suggested that the retirement age be continually adjusted to reflect ever-rising life expectancies. He also has proposed trimming the annual cost-of-living adjustment retirees receive because the current Consumer Price Index overstates inflation.

The government's two largest entitlement programs have received little attention in the presidential race because neither Bush nor his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, wants to dwell on financing problems that present painful choices.

Bush favors giving younger workers the option of putting part of their payroll tax into personal retirement accounts. Kerry opposes the plan for partial privatization.

In the firestorm that erupted over Greenspan's earlier comments about trimming benefits for baby boomers, Kerry rejected the idea of cutting benefits while Bush said benefits "should not be changed for people who are at or near retirement."

In a statement, Kerry spokeswoman Allison Dobson said Friday that Greenspan's testimony "should be a wake-up call." She criticized Bush's economic policy saying "it has driven up endless deficits and put Social Security in danger."

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A121414518