March 20,2001

Grassley Urges Swift Action on Social Security, Medicare

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee of Finance, today saidthe latest reports on the financial outlook for Social Security and Medicare send a clear message toCongress and the President: Make hay while the sun shines.

“There’s reality television. This is reality policymaking,” Grassley said. “These annualreports paint a sobering picture of Social Security and Medicare. They’re enough to bring the mostunrealistic thinkers back down to earth.

“The reports’ findings will sharpen our focus on the task at hand, which is saving SocialSecurity and Medicare for the baby boomers and beyond. Our President is not only committed tosaving these programs, but he’s also passionate about saving them. Congress has to take the sameapproach. We need to use the short respite before baby boomer retirement to save Social Securityand Medicare. We have to make hay while the sun shines. I’m confident we’ll do that.”

Grassley’s comments came at a rare joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance andthe House Committee on Ways and Means. The committees received the 2001 annual reports fromthe Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees. The last joint hearings of the full committeeswere in 1933 -- the year Grassley was born -- and in 1934, on the liquor tax. Grassley said themagnitude of saving Social Security and Medicare merits the unusual platform that a joint hearingprovides. The consequences of taking too little action demand full attention, he said. The trustees’reports show:

Social Security and Medicare are simply unsustainable in their current form. The trusteesproject that promised benefits will exceed scheduled payroll taxes and premiums by $465trillion over the next 75 years. Grassley called that dollar figure astounding.

Medicare will grow at a much faster rate than projected even one year ago. Only 22 percentof beneficiaries used Part A (for hospital stays), while 87 percent of beneficiaries relied onPart B (for doctor visits) in the year 2000. Part A represents only 55 percent of totalspending, while Part B represents 45 percent and is growing in double digits.

Grassley said Congress must avoid taking steps that might worsen the financial conditionsof both programs, as well as budgeting gimmickry that masks the true financial outlook. Instead,Congress should act to put both programs on sound financial footing while modernizing outmodedelements and streamlining inefficiencies, he said.

“Some say the problems facing Social Security and Medicare mean we can’t cut taxes,”Grassley said. “But tax cuts will promote economic growth and make it easier to pay for promisedbenefits. We can harness the power of our economy to help us save these programs for tomorrow’sretirees. I believe we can provide tax relief to hard-working Americans while at the same timeprotecting and improving Social Security and Medicare. Let’s meet this challenge.”