CINCINNATI (TDB) -- North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is proposing appointment of a 16-member task force that will deal with funding Social Security and Medicare, which he describes as a "coming crisis."
The Senate Finance Committee Chairman calls his Congressional creation a bipartisan panel for responsible fiscal action. The move seems to have come out of the blue, and is supported by the Finance Committee's senior Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. Conrad said:
"Our nation faces a fiscal challenge of unprecedented proportions. We cannot ignore the coming crisis and hope that future leaders will solve this problem. The longer we wait, the harder the choices become. We refuse to hand this problem off to yet another 'outside' commission. The time for action is now. With our legislation, we have a chance to adopt a bipartisan plan that will assure American economic security for generations to come."
The move is fueled by retirement of the the Baby Boomers and a projected shortfall between spending on pensions and health care programs and projected revenues. Judd said the problem "has been building for years."
President George Bush tried to make Social Security reform a hallmark of his second term, but his legislative proposals have gone nowhere. Is there a chance of revival? Will his plan to offer private accounts get off the ground? At this point, no one knows.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement last night that seemed to cut the White House out of the picture while indicating that no benefits will be cut.
"Medicare and Social Security are two of the most successful safety nets in our nation and any changes must be made on a bipartisan basis. This can be done by the committees of jurisdiction in Congress; they have the experience, knowledge and authority for addressing issues that arise with entitlements.
"Democrats are committed to addressing the long-term challenge faced by Social Security and Medicare to ensure that American families receive the secure retirement they have earned."