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Social Security Plan Year Away Details Of Proposed Changes Will Wait Until After Elections

President Clinton told a student audience Monday “we have to start now” to overhaul Social Security. Then he and other administration officials signaled caution over plunging in too quickly.

In kicking off his campaign to “save” the nation’s retirement program, Clinton told a Georgetown University audience: “You don’t wait for a rainy day to fix the roof. … It’s very sunny outside. And on this sunny day we should deal with Social Security.”

It was Clinton’s first extended remarks on Social Security since he suggested in his State of the Union address that Congress reserve any budget surplus to help shore up the nation’s retirement program. Monday he said that, after a year of study, he will confer with House and Senate congressional leaders and begin to write actual legislation.

Gene Sperling, director of Clinton’s National Economic Council, said in a White House briefing that no specifics will be advanced by the administration at least until after November’s mid-term elections.

Releasing details now, he suggested, could turn Social Security into a partisan battleground and jeopardize chances for true reform.

He also commented on Clinton’s appeal to Congress to “save Social Security first” instead of using any budget surpluses to finance tax cuts.

Using a surplus to help pay down the national debt for the next year or two, while Social Security overhaul legislation is being developed, would be acceptable to the administration, Sperling said. He said the administration will not propose that the surplus actually be held in reserve while the search for a Social Security fix is under way.

In his speech Clinton announced that the first of four regional forums on overhauling Social Security will be held April 7 in Kansas City, Mo.

Social Security currently takes in more payroll taxes from working Americans than it pays out in benefits to retirees. But after baby boomers start to retire around 2010, that situation will be reversed.

Without changes, by 2029 Social Security will be unable to pay due retirement benefits.

“Baby boomers are getting gray,” Clinton, 51, said of his own generation.

“If we act soon, less is more,” Clinton told the student audience. “We can take relatively modest steps in any number of directions to run this 2029 number well out into the future.”

Most GOP leaders in Congress want to use the anticipated budget surplus for tax cuts. And Republicans have criticized Clinton for being vague on the topic of Social Security and not proposing specific legislation.