Social Security Reform
Notre Dame, IN
March 4, 2005
Thank you all. Please be seated. Thanks for
coming. (Laughter.) More importantly, thanks for letting me come.
We're here to -- (applause.) We're here to have a dialogue with some
of our fellow citizens about Social Security. But I've got some things
I want to share with you before we get there.
First, this is a serious conversation, and it's an important
conversation -- a conversation about the future of the country. And I
want to thank Father Malloy and Father Jenkins for letting us come to
this fantastic -- letting me come back to this fantastic university. I
come back as a graduate -- well, kind of a graduate. I got a degree --
(laughter) -- honorary degree. (Laughter.) For all you C students out
there, it's amazing what can happen to you if you keep working hard.
(Laughter and applause.)
It's such an honor to be with Father Hesburgh, as well. What a
great American. I'm proud to be in your presence, sir. (Applause.)
I'm glad to be here with my man, Mitch. (Applause.) Governor, we miss
you. He was a solid member of my Cabinet, and he's a solid buddy.
Laura sends her best, by the way. She is -- (applause.) She's
doing great. Believe it or not, she's in Death Valley, California,
looking at wildflowers. (Laughter.) She loves flowers -- and I love
I appreciate Congressman Chris Chocola. He is a strong leader.
See, I've been up there long enough to be able to determine who knows
how to lead and who's just up there holding office. You've got a
leader in Chris, and I appreciate your leadership. (Applause.)
Congressman Mark Souder is with us. Mark, thanks for coming;
appreciate working with you, as well. (Applause.) I know the Attorney
General is here -- Attorney General Steve Carter. Thank you for being
here, General. (Applause.) Mayor Luecke is with us. Mr. Mayor, I'm
honored you're here. Thanks for -- you tell those firefighters and
policemen how grateful I am for them having to stand out in the cold to
deal with my entourage. But thanks very much. (Applause.) Mayor Jeff
Rea, good to see you, Jeff. Thanks a lot. (Applause.)
Most of all, thank you all for sharing your time and paying
attention to crucial issues. First, I do want to talk a little foreign
policy. You know, I believe deep in everybody's soul is the desire to
live in freedom. I told a lot of people around the country that
freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty's
gift to each person in this world. And that's what I believe.
And I know we've got some students here -- and you're living in an
amazing -- we're all living in amazing times, when you think about what
has taken place in a brief period of time. I mean, millions vote in
Afghanistan to elected a President. That country has gone from
darkness to light because of freedom. The Palestinians have elected a
new leader who is showing courage. I believe someday soon there will
be a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace.
The Iraqis defied the terrorists and went to the polls by the
millions because they want to live in a free society. (Applause.) The
desire for people to self-govern and to live in a free world is
catching on in parts of the Middle East. In Beirut, Lebanon, thousands
of people took to the streets in peaceful protests because they're
saying, we want to live in freedom, as well. And now it's time for
Syria to end its occupation of that good democracy. They need to
remove all their troops, all their secret services. They need to
listen to the voices of not only the United States and France and other
European countries, but the voices of people like Crown Prince Abdallah
from Saudi Arabia. The leader of Syria must understand the world is
speaking with one voice: Lebanon must be free. (Applause.)
And the reason that's important is because free societies will help
keep the peace -- the peace we all want; the peace for generations to
come, so young and old can grow up in a peaceful world regardless of
your home country. I believe this world is becoming more peaceful.
And when it becomes more peaceful all of us who've been involved in
public policy and all who've served our country can know we have done
our duty for generations to come.
We got some good news today about the economy. The economy added
262,000 new jobs last month. (Applause.) The entrepreneurial spirit
is strong in America. We need to keep it strong. These jobs were
added because -- I think -- of good policy, which said, how can we
stimulate small business growth? What can we do to make sure the
entrepreneur is doing well, not only in Indiana, but around the
country? And the fundamental question is, what do we do now?
I believe firmly that the scales of justice are not balanced in
America. We need legal reform. We got a good class-action bill to my
desk. Republicans and Democrats supported it. We now need to get
asbestos reform so people won't get driven out of work. And I'll tell
you another reform we need in the halls of Congress; we need medical
liability reform, so good doctors aren't run out of practice.
Laura told me, she said, make sure when you get up there, remember,
you've got some panelists, so don't do all the talking. But I've got a
lot to say. (Laughter.) We're doing great in Washington. We're
working hard to make sure that there's a new spirit, where people
decide to set aside politics and work on problems -- and one of the
biggest problems we face is Social Security.
Let me first start off by saying something really important, and
we'll talk about this as the discussion goes on. If you're relying
upon Social Security today, nothing will change. I don't care what the
ads say, what the politicians say. You're going to get your check.
That's just the way it is. That is a fact. The problem for Social
Security is not for those who now depend upon it. Listen, Social
Security has been a great safety net. It's been a vital part of our
country. But we're getting some holes in the safety net, particularly
for younger generations of Americans.
And you're probably wondering why somebody who has been in politics
is talking about Social Security. After all, it's been called the
third rail of American politics. You grab ahold of it, and you get
electrified. I'm talking about it because I see a problem, and I
believe I have a duty as the President of the United States to bring
problems forward for public discussion. (Applause.) So I'm traveling
our country, which I like to do, by the way, talking about the problem
and reassuring seniors that you don't have anything to worry about --
unless you're worried about your grandkids, like most seniors are.
Here is the problem: Baby boomers, like me, are getting ready to
retire. Starting in the year 2008, a lot of us turn the age of 62
years old. We're the -- that where the leading edge of the baby
boomers are -- that would be me. Is that you, Mitch? Almost, yes.
(Laughter.) You don't look it. We've got a lot of us. See, there's a
bulge of retirees getting ready to retire. And we're living longer
than the generation before us. You've got a lot of people getting
ready to retire who are living long years. And, yet, the government
has promised us benefits that are much greater than the previous
generation's. So you're beginning to get a sense for the math: a lot
of people living longer, being promised greater benefits.
And the problem is, as you can see on this chart, that the number
of workers paying into the system is shrinking dramatically. In the
'50s, it was 16 to one, 16 workers paying into the system for every
retiree -- so that if you took the average compensation today for
Social Security retirees, $14,200 -- that would be each worker would
pay $900 to make sure that one person got the benefits. Today, it's
3.3 to one and soon it's going to be two to one. More people, living
longer, getting greater benefits with fewer people paying into the
system. The math just doesn't work any more.
Now, this is a pay-as-you-go system. Checks come in, and the
checks go out. Some of you probably think when you think about the
Social Security trust, that there is a bank account with your name on
it, that the government is dutifully collecting your money so that it
will accumulate over time and pay it out. That's not how it works --
that's not the way it works. Money is coming and the money is going
out. And if there's extra money above and beyond the promises made to
Social Security retirees, that money is going to pay for other
government programs. I hate to tell you, that's just the way it's
working. And what has happened is you got a bunch of paper
accumulating in the form of IOUs. But this is a pay-as-you-go system.
It is not a savings system.
Now, when you get more people retiring who are getting greater
benefits and are living longer, with fewer people paying in, at some
point in time the system starts to go into the red. Right now, on that
chart you can see, there's more money coming in than going out. But in
2018, there's more money going out than coming in. That's the
beginning of the -- of the trust beginning to become depleted. I mean,
it's the beginning of the IOUs being dissipated.
Let me tell you how bad it will be if we don't do anything. In the
year 2027, the government will need to raise $200 billion more than the
payroll taxes just to make good on the promises. And it gets worse the
next year, and the next year, and the next year. It's up to about $300
billion by 2030 something. And in 2042, the system is flat broke. All
the IOUs have been gone.
So we have a problem. I don't care how you look at it, it is a
problem. It is a problem that I think needs to be addressed. The
longer you wait, the harder it is to come up with a solution. Imagine
if this government of ours does nothing at this point in Social
Security, and you've got a five-year-old child. When that child turns
18, the system goes into the red. When that child turns 28, it
requires billions of dollars to make good on the promises to people
like me. When that child -- in the year 2027, that child and other
workers are going to be confronted with at least a $200 billion deficit
per year to make good on the promise. So my first mission is to travel
around this country saying to folks, we've got a problem, and to remind
seniors that nothing will change, that you'll get your check.
And if I'm successful at doing that, then all of a sudden you can
imagine where the debate will go. The American people will start
saying -- particularly the younger Americans who are going to have to
pay for this -- will start saying, what you going to do about it? If
you see a problem, Mr. President, and Congress and Senate, what do you
intend to do about it in order to make sure there's a retirement system
and safety net for future generations of Americans? And I understand
And that's why at my State of the Union, I stood up and said, bring
your ideas forward. This is no longer the third rail of American
politics. I don't care if it's a Republican idea or a Democrat idea,
I'm interested in knowing what's on your mind as to how to permanently
fix, permanently solve this problem. And I mentioned that President
Clinton and Senator Moynihan and many Democrats who've come up with
interesting ways, interesting ideas, a variety of options to fix the --
to fix the situation. Now, I realize I've got a duty to participate,
as well. First thing I'm going to do is keep traveling the country
over and over and over again, making the point we got a problem and now
is the time to act. (Applause.)
But I want to share with you an interesting idea, an idea that I
think will make America a better place, and that is I believe that as
part of a Social Security reform package, younger workers ought to be
allowed to take some of their own money -- remember, when you pay in
payroll taxes, it's your money; not the government's money, it's your
money -- you ought to be allowed to take some of your own money and set
it aside in a personal savings account that you call your own. And
here are the benefits -- (applause.) And here's the benefits as I see
them. First, there's something called the compounding rate of
interest. In other words, if you set aside dollars over time, they will
grow with interest. And it compounds. It gets bigger, bigger and
Now, you say, well, why can't that happen with my own money now?
Well, it can. But it is a paltry rate of return compared to
conservative stocks and bonds. If you put your money in a conservative
mix of stocks and bonds, the rate of return you'll get on your money is
significantly greater than that which the government is getting for
you. That's important.
Take for example, the idea I've suggested to Congress that a worker
ought to be able to take 4 percent of the payroll taxes and set it
aside in a personal account. And if you average $35,000 over your life
as a worker and set aside that money in a personal savings account,
over time, the money you've set aside will grow to $250,000. That's on
a worker earning $35,000. That's your money, $250,000. Now, what
would that be used for? That would be in addition to that which the
government can afford to pay you. In other words, a personal account
is on top of the check you're going to get. The government can't
possibly pay the promises we have made, as you've seen from the
charts. It's just impossible to do so. So my idea is to let you take
some of your own money, set it aside, let it earn interest over time,
let it grow, let it compound with interest, so that the money you end
up having for retirement is closer to the promise the government has
Second benefit: It's your money, and when you pass on, you can
leave it to whomever you want. That's not the way the system works
today. The system works today -- (applause.) It will help a family
who -- where a wage-earner has died suddenly because that money is now
available to be spent for that family. We'll talk to somebody who went
-- had an issue along these lines.
I'll tell you another thing I like about it. I like the fact that
people can own money. There is a myth in America that only certain
people can be an investor, the investor class. You've heard that
discussed before. I guess that's kind of the pin-stripe, Wall Street
types. That's not what I think about America. I think everybody in
this country has got the capacity to manage a personal account. I
think everybody should be allowed to be able to take his or her own
money and watch it grow over time.
Now, you can't put it in the lottery. You can't take the money and
shoot dice with it. There will be guidelines. There will be a
conservative mix of investments. And guess -- guess what -- guess
where you can find a go-by for this type of system. Federal employees
are allowed to do just this, in the Federal Employee Thrift Benefit
Plan. That's exactly what happens at the federal government right
now. They say if you're working for the government, you can set aside
some of your money, and you can invest in a conservative mix of stocks
and bonds so that you can get a better rate of return.
Fourth, I think it makes sense to have people open up a quarterly
statement and watch how their wealth is growing. It certainly would
cause people to pay attention to what's happening in Washington, D.C.
It will make people wonder what the policies are -- are the policies
that are being articulated good enough to continue to make sure our
economy continues to grow. In other words, when you own something, you
have a stake in the future of the country.
So I think this is an idea worth discussing. And I put it out
there for people to debate and listen to and argue about. But one
thing is for certain that Congress needs to know, that we have a
problem that needs to be addressed. If somebody has got some better
ideas, I'm looking forward to hearing them. I'm looking forward to the
people around our country saying to the elected members of this
Congress of ours, we've got a problem; now we expect you as an elected
leader to come to the table and solve it now, before it is too late.
And that's what I want to discuss here. (Applause.)
By the way, I'm really excited about the opportunity to fix Social
Security. That's why we run for office. Someone said, it's a steep
hill to climb, Mr. President. Well, my attitude is, the steeper, the
better -- because when you get up top, you realize you have left a
significant contribution behind. And that's the spirit in which I go
into this dialogue with members of both political parties. (Applause.)
A couple of other points on the accounts. One, you can't take out
all your money when you retire. In other words, the account is there
to add on to that which the Social Security system has given you. It's
in addition to. Secondly, it's a -- there is a way to make sure that
when you come closer to retirement, you can alter the mix of stocks and
bonds or T bills, or whatever it might be so that you're able to better
control the investment portfolio. In other words, there's flexibility
within the guidelines that the government has set, just like the Thrift
Savings Plan of federal employees.
We've got some citizens here who have agreed to lend some of --
some of your expertise to the subject. After all, you're dependent on
Social Security and I'm not. You're an expert on it. First I want to
bring in Jeff Brown.
What do you do, Jeff? That's a leading question, I already knew
the answer, of course. (Laughter.)
DR. BROWN: I'm a Ph.D. in economics and I'm a professor at one of
the other great Midwestern universities.
THE PRESIDENT: Ph.D. in economics. It's an interesting lesson,
isn't it? He's the advisor and the Ph.D. I'm the President and a fair
student. (Laughter and applause.)
All right, Doc. You're an expert on Social Security.
DR. BROWN: That's right. I've been studying it for about a decade
now, and the good news is, it doesn't really require a Ph.D. to
understand that the program is in trouble.
THE PRESIDENT: Give people your thoughts, seriously.
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: You know what's interesting about this subject? I
was just looking at Dr. Brown, he's a young-looking guy -- and I was
thinking about when I was his age, I don't remember much discussion
about Social Security being in trouble. I think we all took it for
granted -- precisely because the math was fine. And what he's telling
you is, is that there has been a demographic shift. People are living
longer, people are having fewer babies. And you might remember the old
-- they'd say, vote for me, I'm going to make sure you get greater
Social Security benefits. Well, that's what happened, they'd promise
more and more and more. And so my generation has been promised
benefits that the government just can't pay for -- unless graduates
from Notre Dame University are willing to pay a significant chunk of
their earnings to support me. And I'm not so sure they're going to be
willing to do so when it comes time.
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: What he also is saying is that when you save more,
when there's more savings, it encourages capital investment. Capital
investment means the economy is more likely to be strong. And that's
important. There is a direct correlation between savings and
investment, and investment means jobs and productivity, and eventually,
higher wages. And so this will not only have a good -- be good for our
fellow workers and fellow Americans, it will be good for the economy.
Well, good. Glad you're here, Jeff, thanks for coming.
Listen, we've got Mark and Betty Batterbee. Isn't that right?
Where do you live?
MRS. BATTERBEE: We live in Edwardsburg, Michigan.
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome. I'm glad the people of Indiana let you
MRS. BATTERBEE: Yes, they did. (Laughter.) We're from Michiana.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, from Michiana, all right. You've got some
MRS. BATTERBEE: Yes, we do. Together, Mark and I have 11
children. We have a very large family, which seven of them are here
THE PRESIDENT: Seven are here? Good. There they are. Make sure
you listen to your mother. (Laughter.)
MRS. BATTERBEE: We have 35 grandchildren. (Applause.) And we
have six great-grandchildren. But, first, Mr. President, I think it's
an honor to be here. I'm so delighted.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks for coming, Betty. I appreciate you
MRS. BATTERBEE: And I have a message that I would like you to take
to Laura. We think she is a gracious and adorable First Lady, and
we're so proud she's our First Lady. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I'm proud of her. Thank you, Betty.
Social Security. (Laughter.)
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, let's stop here, this is an important point.
Her husband had paid into the system; she's too young for survivor
benefits, and therefore, the money they paid just went away. There was
nothing. Here was a man who had worked, supported his family, paid
payroll taxes, passed away earlier, and she had zero. I don't think
that's a fair system. If we had personal accounts there would have
been an asset that this family had earned. (Applause.)
You're doing great. Keep going on.
MRS. BATTERBEE: I'll let Mark talk.
THE PRESIDENT: You want to introduce Mark?
MRS. BATTERBEE: This is my husband. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I was wondering who he was sitting there, you
know? (Laughter.) Very good job.
Mark, thank you. Tell everybody what you did.
MR. BATTERBEE: My name is Mark Batterbee, and this is my very
gracious wife, Betty. I served as a pastor in the missionary church
for over 40 years in Michigan and in the Michiana area. I retired just
about three years ago. I have to say something, Mr. President -- how
much I appreciate and I believe how much we appreciate the strong
leadership that you have provided in the office of President of the
United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that, thank you. (Applause.) Thank
you all. (Applause.) Okay. They got to go back to work here. Thank
MR. BATTERBEE: Also I want to say that as a -- maybe I shouldn't
-- as a "evangelical" myself, I want to say how much I have appreciated
the moral and -- leadership that he has provided for all of us, and the
fact that he has been an example for the youth of America and for
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. (Applause.)
MR. BATTERBEE: Now to business. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, now we get the preacher over with, let's head
toward the pocketbook. (Laughter.)
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you something, Mark. Sorry to
interrupt. You getting Social Security now. Does it matter?
MR. BATTERBEE: Yes. Today Betty and I -- Social Security provides
a great part of our day-to-day expenses. And we appreciate that very
much. However, I have a number of children. You've already seen them
out here -- children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren -- that
when their time comes to receive Social Security, apparently there will
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that, Mark. This is a
generational issue, when you think about it. See, this good couple
counts on their Social Security check. And there's a lot of people
that really do rely upon their check. It's important for people to
know we know that. I know it. And we would never put anything in
place that would cause this couple not to get their check, not to have
the government promise fulfilled. That's really important for people
to hear. But this is a generational issue beyond that. This is --
you're hearing -- how many grandkids, 34?
MRS. BATTERBEE: -- 35, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Thirty-five. It keeps growing. Either that or I
didn't hear you right. (Laughter.) And a lot of people are saying,
once I'm confident that I'm going to get my check, older Americans
should be saying to members of Congress, what about my grandkids?
Because we have a significant problem for our grandkids coming up, and
And I want to thank you all for joining us. I -- we were talking
earlier, and one of the things that made me feel great was when they
both said, I don't worry about my check being taken away from me.
That's important for me to hear. When you launch a dialogue like this,
you -- one of the things that a President must be mindful of is
creating uncertainty amongst people who depend upon their check. So
I'm going to spend a lot of time assuring our fellow citizens that when
you talk about reform, you're not talking about making sure that you
don't get the promise.
So I want to thank you all for sharing that with me. Thanks for
having all those kids, too. (Laughter.)
Anyway, Fran Martinez. Fran, thanks for coming. What do you do?
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Let me stop you right there. Everybody know what a
401(k) is? I don't think we'd have known that when we were coming up,
Mitch. A 401(k) means manage your own money, see it grow.
MR. MARTINEZ: Exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: Does that make you --
MR. MARTINEZ: It's a sense of ownership. And I think the idea of
personal retirement accounts, as you're proposing in these reforms, I'm
very encouraged as a taxpayer to know that that could be a reality one
day for us.
THE PRESIDENT: Some people say, well, it's really hard to manage
your own money. For some people it's a foreign concept. Is that the
case for you, I mean, your 401(k) --
MR. MARTINEZ: No, that's -- you know what, you look at it all the
time, you get a quarterly statement once every quarter, every three
months, and you see your money grow, this money that you're putting in
every week continues to grow. And I believe that we should have a part
of that in our system today that we have, and we don't have that.
THE PRESIDENT: Long-term investments take out swings in markets,
and a conservative mix takes them out even further. So when you hear
people say, oh, if you put your money in the market you'll lose it all
-- that's just not the way it works. We're talking about people
holding money over a long period of time with a conservative mix in
stocks and bonds.
I hear people say, well, I can't do that, or certain people can't
manage their own money. But you've got to understand life is changing,
particularly for younger generations of Americans. Here you're looking
at a 36-year-old man who has got a 401K, it's a fine contribution
plan. He's watching his money grow. My attitude is, why shouldn't we
apply that very same concept to his other source of money, his payroll
taxes, and setting up his own account?
Now, let me ask you something. Your children -- obviously, you're
in the business of making sure they're educated, but I presume you're
trying to build up an asset base for them.
MR. MARTINEZ: Absolutely. Part of our responsibility as parents
is to set aside money for them, for their education and for down the
road. And that's a very important part of our family.
THE PRESIDENT: So he builds up -- Fran sets aside money, it grows,
it grows, it grows from his personal account; he passes on and the kids
can do with the money whatever they want to do with it. It's not their
retirement account, it is their money to live on, it's their money to
invest. It is a nest egg, it is a part of their wealth and their
worth. Seems like to me that a concept that we ought to spread to
every family in America. This idea of, only a certain number of people
should be allowed to invest is something I totally reject and I think
it's wrong. There will be plenty of help for people to learn how to
watch a stock and bonds grow, to be able to pick and choose the risk
and reward that the government says is available for you. There's
plenty of people who have got the capacity to do that.
And I want to thank you for thinking that way, Fran. It's an
Debbie Johnson. You don't need to tell your age. (Laughter.)
MS. JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But you do have the hardest job in America, which
is being a single mom.
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: I mean, a single mom who is really busy, sitting on
the stage with the President talking about Social Security -- why?
MS. JOHNSON: And I forgot to say I'm also a part-time student at
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Let me stop you. Do you hear what she said? I do
not believe -- members of Congress need to hear -- I do not believe
that Social Security will be around when it comes time to retire.
MS. JOHNSON: No, I don't.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't blame you. (Laughter.)
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, this is a very important part of the
dialogue. We got folks saying I'm comfortable when I get my check.
And we got taxpayers saying, I don't think I'm ever going to see one.
As a matter of fact, somebody told me one time, a poll -- I didn't see
the poll, generally don't pay attention to them, but nevertheless, it
said that young people think it's more likely they're going to see a
UFO than get a Social Security check. (Laughter and applause.) Were
you in that poll?
The fundamental question facing our society and facing our Congress
is, are we willing to worry about taxpayers that have yet to come close
to retirement. That's really what we're talking about. I campaigned
on this issue. I said, vote for me, and I'm going to bring forth
interesting ideas to make the Social Security system sound. I believe
people appreciate that candid approach to issues and want people to
work together to solve problems. And if I were a younger American, I'd
be asking loud and clear, what are you going to do about this train
wreck that's headed my way? Again, retirees, people like me who are
fixing to retire, we're fine. The system is in pretty good shape. But
it's the people paying into the system to make sure the baby boomer
generation is given what we've been told that is really going to have a
heavy, heavy burden to bear.
Speaking about young Americans -- good job, by the way -- Jon Paul
Surma. Jon Paul, how old are you?
MR. SURMA: I'm 24.
THE PRESIDENT: Anybody here from Notre Dame, that's not much older
than you, so you need to be paying attention to this.
MR. SURMA: I'm 24. I'm from Rolling Prairie, Indiana, about 20
miles from here.
THE PRESIDENT: Rolling Prairie?
MR. SURMA: Yes, 500 people.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes?
MR. SURMA: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: About the size of Crawford.
MR. SURMA: Yes. (Laughter.) I'm part owner of a small business,
Pyramid Equipment. We're in the waste industry. We sell and service
waste equipment, or garbage trucks. (Laughter.) I'm proud of what I
do, so -- (applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'm proud you're an entrepreneur.
MR. SURMA: Yes. I have 18 employees, 16 of them full-time.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MR. SURMA: I pay 100 percent of their insurance, and then I also
implemented a simple IRA for them where I'll match 3 percent of what
they put in.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good. So that's an individual personal
account, by the way?
MR. SURMA: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: A different kind of personal account.
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: So what do you like about the personal accounts?
MR. SURMA: What do I like about the personal accounts? Right now
I don't feel any ownership because I feel like you guys are going to
take my money and I'm not going to get any of it back.
THE PRESIDENT: Plain way of saying it. (Laughter.)
MR. SURMA: Yes. And I have the worst luck in the world. I'll
probably die before I ever get that --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute. (Laughter.)
MR. SURMA: No, no, serious.
THE PRESIDENT: You need to seek help right here at Notre Dame.
MR. SURMA: So I'm afraid that I'll die and then you guys will take
more of my money, and then I wish my nieces and nephews -- being
single, I don't have any kids, and I probably will never have kids.
THE PRESIDENT: Don't give up. Wait a minute. (Laughter.) I
thought you were an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to be
optimistic. How can you start you own business unless you see a better
MR. SURMA: I'm married to my job.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, okay, well -- (laughter.) You got plenty of
time. Don't worry about it. Any other 20-year-olders talking about
the issue? Any other 20-year-old people talking about the issue? Do
MR. SURMA: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: They do? (Applause.) That's good.
MR. SURMA: That's good.
THE PRESIDENT: You should care. You're not after -- you're kind
of one of these lonely heart things trying to find a -- (Laughter.)
MR. SURMA: I'm not going to lie. I was looking out in the crowd.
(Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Social Security.
MR. SURMA: Okay, there you go. (Laughter.) Like I was saying, if
something happens to me, I want my nieces and nephews to get the money
I paid in. My biggest problem is being self-employed, I have to pay
the whole percent. I have to pay the employee side and the employer
side of mine. And I feel like it's a tax burden.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Applause.) You think it's high now, if we
don't do anything, it's really going to be high.
MR. SURMA: And I'm afraid that the first person you guys come to
is me if there's going to be problems.
THE PRESIDENT: You're successful --
MR. SURMA: Yes. So in the future, if we don't do anything we're
either going to have to cut benefits, which you say we're not going to
do, or we're going to have to take the money from another part of the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I said we weren't going to -- the benefits
will be the same for those who've retired.
MR. SURMA: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: I have said we can't afford the benefits that have
been promised. That's important to hear. And the best way to make
sure we come closest to the benefits that you've been promised -- come
closest to them -- is to allow people to take and have that money
compounded. That's how we get closest to the promises. But benefits
will not be changed for seniors. But beyond that, from 1950 and
before, people who have been born from 1950 on, there is a serious
problem. Let me make that clear.
MR. SURMA: But my thing is if we don't do anything, we're going to
have to probably then raise taxes. And a 35-percent tax bracket is
already too high as it is in my opinion. And it's hurting the economic
development and spurns investment. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Good job.
I want to thank you all for joining me on this. I do want to say
one other thing. When I landed, I met Lucy Kuminecz. She was at the
foot of Air Force One. She is a volunteer here in this part of the
world with the Busy Hands program. It's an interesting way for
somebody to contribute to somebody's -- to help somebody have kind of a
bright spot in their life. She makes little dolls for children in
hospitals and passes them out. She's chosen to do this because she's
heard a call to love a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.
We talk a lot about the strength of America being our great
influence in this world, or our economic engine, and hopefully we'll
solve Social Security so that that economic engine continues. But the
true strength of America is in the hearts and souls of our fellow
I remember coming to Notre Dame, in my graduation speech, I talked
about the call to service, the need for people to realize that a
contribution to your country can be made in all kinds of ways,
particularly contributions that come to help those who hurt, those who
wonder whether or not the American experience is meant for them.
Lucy, I love to -- where is Lucy? She's somewhere around here, I
know. Oh, Lucy, thank you for coming. I appreciate you being here.
She volunteers -- (applause) -- she volunteers with the retired and
senior volunteer program. She is a soldier in the army of compassion.
And for those of you who are interested in how you can serve our
country -- feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, put your
arm around a brother and sister who hurts, and say, I love you. Mentor
a child, teach somebody to read. Take time out of your busy life to
help somebody who hurts. And this country will be able to realize its
full promise for every single citizen.
I'm honored you all came. I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I
have. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our
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