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Social Security examined

A series of GOP proposals to privatize the system are discussed at the Shady Hills gathering.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 2, 2002


Citrus County resident Doris Kelley drove all the way down to the Hernando-Pasco county line to attend a forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman about the privatization of Social Security.

By the end of the two-hour forum, Kelley was passing notes around saying she was interested only in privatization if beleaguered accounting firm Arthur Andersen could manage the accounts.

"That way we'd have a chance of having the books cooked in our favor!" said Kelley.

Armed with note pads, pens and questions, about 150 residents, many of whom receive Social Security, came from Hudson and Inverness to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8681 building in Shady Hills to hear Thurman and Barbara Kennelly, former president and chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security, discuss problems facing Social Security, as well as privatization of the fund.

"Privatization turns the whole idea of Social Security on its head," said Kennelly, former Connecticut U.S. representative and the third woman to serve on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. "We have to take a hard look at a number of small changes packaged together."

Panel member Sally Thullbery, Social Security Administration manager in the Port Richey office, outlined how the system works now, explaining the five types now available: retirement, disability, family and survivor benefits, as well as supplemental security income. She also said that the number of workers per beneficiary has been shrinking. By 2041, she said, the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted.

Thurman explained how her office has filed a discharge petition seeking to force a floor vote and open debate about existing Social Security legislation before this fall's elections.

"I believe we have a lot at stake in this debate," said Thurman, who is opposed to five different pieces of Republican-sponsored legislation. Thurman said that all five privatization plans would cut either current or future Social Security benefits.

Republicans responded to the forum's attacks by pointing out that Democrats have not offered any counterproposals to salvage Social Security. National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said none of the GOP legislative proposals will cut benefits.

"There's going to be a time when Social Security retirees outnumber workers," McBride said. "You can't just attack and not offer something."

While most of the panel's speakers focused on criticizing privatization, many attending spoke of more general concerns about Social Security, especially whether it would last to pass on to their children.

Brooksville resident Robert Collins attended because he's concerned about the more frequent dipping into Social Security trust funds to finance the war on terrorism, among other things.

"All these politicians campaigned on the lockbox line, but I think they gave everybody a key to that lockbox but me," Collins said.

Spring Hill resident Adeline Grico complained about the lack of interest in the fate of Social Security.

"We worry about our manatees, but we don't worry about our people here," she said.

The panel also included Florida Voter's League president Eugene Poole of Ocala and Richard Braun of Spring Hill, whose wife, Beatrice, is a former AARP national board member but missed the forum because of illness.

The forum will be rebroadcast on public access television at 6 p.m. today and Thursday and Saturday.

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