WASHINGTON – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (search) says Republicans should rework their argument about Social Security because Americans aren't buying the idea that a crisis is near.
"As a practicing politician, you can't get the American people worried about 2018," Gingrich said Friday at the American Enterprise Institute. "If I called you and said, '10 years from today your roof is going to need (to be) fixed, would you like to sign the contract this afternoon?' You'd say to me, 'How about calling me back in nine years, 10 months."'
Gingrich praised President Bush's plan to allow young people the option of privately owned Social Security (search) accounts, but he said immediate benefits — not future concerns — should be the focus of the campaign.
"The urgency ought to be simpler," Gingrich said. "Every day young people are denied the opportunity to have a personal Social Security savings account, they are cheated out of that day's compound interest."
Although he stressed a short-term message, Gingrich said failure to change the retirement system could be catastrophic in the long run. If Social Security, Medicare (search) and Medicaid (search) aren't fixed by the time the baby boom generation retires, "we will bankrupt the country," he said.
If private Social Security accounts work, young people will rush to sign up, Gingrich said. In recent years, he says, the party has departed somewhat from that sort of market-based approach to governing.
"We've had control of the Congress now for a decade, had control of the White House for five years," Gingrich said. "And yet, if you look around the planet and say, 'Tell me the 10 most interesting privatization projects, they're not here, because we're worn out."
Gingrich was the architect of the "Contract With America," (search) a conservative, legislative list that helped Republicans win control of the House in 1994. He resigned as House speaker in 1998 and quit Congress after Republicans lost seats in midterm elections that year.
In his recently published book, "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America," he addresses what he says should be the new focus of conservatives, including changing the immigration system and reaffirming God in public life.
"The things that made us a majority are not the things that will keep us a majority," Gingrich said.