Good morning. I'm Congressman John Salazar from Colorado.
Seventy years ago, Democrats created Social Security to provide retirement security for all Americans. In 1935, six years into the Great Depression, bank failures and a stock market crash had wiped out the savings of millions of Americans. Getting older meant poverty and dependence.
But President Franklin Roosevelt and Democrats in Congress changed that, giving all Americans a benefit that would help them retire with dignity and independence. And since then, forward-looking Democrats have expanded and improved Social Security so that it truly lives up to its name.
In the 1950s, we added a disability benefit. In the 1960s, we created Medicare to guarantee health care for our seniors. And in 1983, Democrats worked with President Reagan in a bipartisan way to come up with a plan to make sure that Social Security would be there for generations to come.
Tomorrow marks Social Security's 70th anniversary. And for 70 years, Social Security has never failed to pay a promised benefit to seniors or people with disabilities — it has never been a day late or a dollar short. But now, that guaranteed benefit is being threatened by a fabricated crisis and a false solution.
Recently, President Bush and Republicans in Congress traveled across the country to sell the public on his plan to privatize Social Security. But the plan he is offering won't even come close to putting the program on solid financial footing. In fact, his plan for privatization would lead to a 40 percent cut in current benefits for middle — class beneficiaries, add five trillion dollars to our national debt, and make the system weaker in the future.
As we debate this issue in Congress, I will always take the words of Amelia Valdez from Pueblo to heart. She gave me a photograph of President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act into law in 1935 and with tears in her eyes she said to me: ' Hang it in your office as a reminder — please, do not let them dismantle my only source of income. '
I promised her I wouldn't, and I and my Democratic colleagues intend to keep that promise. It will take hard work, but it can be done.
Our number one priority should be to guarantee that all American workers get the benefits they have earned — everyone should get back what they worked so hard to put into the system. Changing the Social Security system to drain the trust fund and cut benefits simply does not make sense, and is unfair to people like Amelia.
The first step towards saving Social Security and guaranteeing benefits is to make sure that the money that comes out of your paycheck to pay for Social Security is used only to pay out the benefits you have earned. We must start by protecting the Social Security trust fund.
Then we must come together in a bipartisan fashion, as Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan did in 1983, and develop a solution to address the problems Social Security will face down the road. Social Security depends on personal income growth, so getting people back to work should be a major part of that discussion.
On its 70th anniversary, Democrats are celebrating the success of Social Security and renewing our commitment to making it stronger for generations to come. We have a moral obligation to stand up and protect Social Security for the next 70 years and beyond — that means stopping privatization and dropping partisan demands for private accounts.
Democrats stand ready to work across the aisle to come up with a bipartisan package of common-sense solutions to strengthen Social Security, so that Social Security can pay full benefits without increasing the deficit, cutting benefits for the middle class, or weakening the system.
We must maintain the strength and solvency of Social Security. Not only for Amelia and the millions of seniors who worry about their monthly budget, not only for the baby-boomers approaching retirement, but for the safety and retirement security of Americans for another 70 years and beyond.
I'm Congressman John Salazar of Colorado.
Thank you for listening.