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Surgeon Trades Scalpel For Priestís Collar

Surgeon Trades Scalpel For Priestís CollarIntestimony before Congress, James Roosevelt – Tufts Schoolof Medicine instructor and senior vice president of Tufts HealthPlan – defended the institution founded by his grandfather,Franklin Delano Roosevelt.Boston

Boston [02.16.05] One of the most debated policy issues today is thefate of Social Security, with President Bush advocating a planto partially privatize the program. But James Roosevelt, Jr. –a clinical instructor in the Department of Public Health and FamilyMedicine at Tufts School of Medicine as well as the grandson ofPresident Franklin Delano Roosevelt – recently testifiedbefore the Democratic Policy Committee on Capitol Hill about theneed to preserve his grandfather’s program as it was intended.The Democratic PolicyCommittee is the policy and research arm of the Senate Democrats,enacted by law in 1947.

“Drasticchanges which divert the payroll tax to privatization will almostcertainly eliminate that guaranteed benefit,” Roosevelttold the panel of senators. “In fact, privatization threatensto bring about the collapse of the entire Social Security system.”

PresidentBush’s plan for Social Security reform has been a hot topicin the media. News outlets, including the Los Angeles Times,New York Times and the Reuters news service,covered Roosevelt’s testimony – most of which he incorporatedinto a recent op-ed for The Boston Globe.

Roosevelt,former associate commissioner for retirement policy at the SocialSecurity Administration (SSA), recalled the convictions whichprompted FDR to introduce Social Security in 1935 as part of the“New Deal” reforms.

“[Mygrandfather] believed that the only enemy that could ever defeatthe United States of America was fear itself. And he and my grandmother,Eleanor Roosevelt, looked at America and found fear of want, particularlyafter retirement of loss of a parent,” he told the committee.

Accordingto Roosevelt, as recently as 1950 half of all senior citizenslived in poverty.

“AsSocial Security payments and benefits began to be available toall of our retirees and our disabled and our survivors, we'vereduced that rate of poverty to less than eight percent in thiscountry,” Roosevelt testified, saying that it wasn’tideal but it was “tremendous progress.”

While Rooseveltnoted that his grandfather understood investment and the stockmarket, he emphasized how Social Security was intended to be distinctfrom those.

“Itssuccess lies in the fact that it is an insurance plan, not aninvestment plan or a welfare plan,” he said. “It isthe guaranteed basis of a secured retirement. It is the guaranteethat the basic needs of older will not have to be provided bytheir children while they try to provide for themselves and theirchildren. That's the way it was before Social Security. And werisk returning to those burdens if the guaranteed benefit is eliminated.”

While workingat the SSA, Roosevelt described the research his staff did intoprivatization programs in other countries.

“Noneof the other systems worked,” he testified. “We evenlooked at countries that are touted as successful. Within 10 yearsof retirement, a majority of retirees end up on welfare. Noneof them work to accomplish what our Social Security system hassuccessfully accomplished.”

Much of therhetoric that has been employed by advocates of privatization,Roosevelt contended, is inaccurate.

“Everyhonest person knows that there is no crisis, there is no threatof bankruptcy, and what are needed are incremental adjustments,not repeal[ed] through drastic measures like privatization,”he told the senators.

Roosevelturged honesty and openness in the ongoing debate about the program.

“Takingthe fear out of the Social Security debate rests on speaking truthfully,”he said. “The Social Security trustees, the majority ofwhom were appointed by the president, say that the system canpay full benefits with no changes until 2042. The CongressionalBudget Office says 2052,” he said.

Privatizationof Social Security, Roosevelt said, threatens to tarnish the accomplishmentsof the system over the last several decades.

“Theseattempts to divide grandparents, parents and children on thisissue are an attack on the most successful program this countryhas ever had,” he testified. “Social Security unitesthe interests of my parents' generation, my contemporaries andmy children's generation.”

The president’splan is even meeting skepticism from some Republicans in Congress.New Hampshire representative and Tufts graduate Jeb Bradley (A’74) has expressed doubt concerning the proposal.

“I donot support the privatization of Social Security,” the Republicantold the Portsmouth Herald in January. “To moveto private accounts, it would cost at least $2 trillion, whichwould have to be borrowed money. We need to understand the mathematicsof it.”

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