PRESIDENTIAL DEBATEOctober 16, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Lehrer: For Senator Dole, in this section. On the back row, yes, ma'am.
IRIS SEIFFERT: I'm Iris Seiffert, and I'm unemployed.
MR. DOLE: Iris?
IRIS SEIFFERT: Iris. Senator Dole, we talked about Social Security for us Baby Boomers, but shouldn't we be saving and investing for our own retirement as well? Are you planning any incentives to encourage us to take care of ourselves rather than to rely on the government and on Social Security when we retire?
MR. DOLE: Well, we have in our economic pack, individual retirement accounts where we think it'll encourage savings. You could also use those accounts for health care or education or a first home. We're doing that precisely - and I think one thing sooner or later we're going to have to consider is to take a look at the Social Security system, because we've got a lot of people advocating that, well, we don't want to put our money into Social Security. Now, you've got to be very careful about that, because you have to protect the people who are already in the pipeline. But it's something you might consider. I'm not suggesting it will be done, but at least we ought to look at it.
It's been looked - when I was chairman of the Finance Committee, which handles Social Security, we looked at all these options, and one thing we've got to make certain - when I used to go home, my mother would tell me, "All I've got is my Social Security; don't touch it." And we didn't touch it. We preserved it. And I'm an optimist. Your Social Security is going to be there when you retire. We'll fix it. It will probably happen in the year 2012 or 2015. In 1983, we thought we had a 75-year fix. It didn't work - much, much less. But at least we fixed it for some time, and 37 (million) to 40 million people get their checks on time.
So we need to preserve the system and we need to make it stronger. But we also need to look at some options whether or not we - don't know what the options are. In fact, they've got a commission right now in Congress, a bipartisan commission, looking at all the different options they're going to present to the next Congress. So I think we'll wait and see what they present, take a look at it.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our - this is one where we have some agreement, I think. Only about half the people in this country have pension plans, and Social Security is not enough for a lot of people to live on, or at least it's not enough for them to maintain anything like their previous lifestyle.
So we've got to figure out how we're going to have more people with pension plans, and pension coverage has been declining as more and more people work for small businesses and fewer people work for big businesses. So what is in my plan - and I think it's almost identical to what's in Senator Dole's plan - is we make more people than are now eligible to save in an IRA, and we'd let couples - married couples save more, and then they could withdraw from it tax free if they needed to for medical emergencies or to buy a home or for education, but they could also save to supplement their retirement.
In addition to that, we just passed a sweeping small business reform that makes it easier for small business people to take out 401(k) plans for themselves and their employees, and then much easier for employees to carry it from job to job. My best friend from grade school is a computer software salesman, and he told me last time he changed employers it took him nine months to figure out how to transfer his 401(k) plan. Now, none of that will happen any more, and so I hope that over the next ten years you'll see a big increase in the percentage of people that have pension plans plus a secure Social Security System.
MR. DOLE: Did you say you're unemployed? The first thing we ought to do is get you a job and that's the economic package again. Create jobs and opportunities. Reduce the capital gains rate. Reduce regulatory reform.
Stop some of this senseless litigation and let people work in America. And I think that's the thrust we will make. Obviously Social Security is a very important program. It should - it'll be preserved, Democrats or Republicans. It'll be preserved. We want to make certain we protect those in the pipeline, just as we did back in 1983. And we did it on a bipartisan basis. We took it out of politics. People get so tired of politics. And we ought to do the same with Medicare. Maybe we could make a deal here tonight.