The Youth Entitlement Summit wraps up in Washington today and our President, Barbara B. Kennelly, addressed the group this morning. Given the clear anti-entitlement bent of the summit’s sponsors such as the Concord Coalition and the Peterson Foundation, some early supporters, like Rock-the-Vote, ultimately withdrew their summit sponsorship. Future Majority blogged about it here.

Barbara was in fact a very lonely anti-privatization voice in the room today. Even so, as a bi-partisan membership organization we felt strongly the National Committee’s message needed to be heard.
I’m here to tell you that my members are every bit as passionate about protecting their children and grandchildren as the organizers of this Summit. We oppose privatization because we want to protect Social Security and Medicare for future generations. Believe me, privatizers want to dismantle Social Security – not for this generation of retirees –but for the generations down the road.

Our difference of opinion is not about the ultimate goal – we are all here because we care about what happens to our younger generation. Where we strongly disagree is on how the goal is to be achieved. Organizations such as mine believe that our children will absolutely need programs like Social Security and Medicare when they reach retirement age. We believe that the best way to represent their interests is not to spend our time talking about how to cut these essential programs, but instead in finding ways to make sure Social Security and Medicare are still strong and vibrant decades into the future.

Because we are primarily focused on the needs of our children rather than shrinking the size of government, we are less likely to buy into the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that young people have been bombarded with over the years. I understand that combining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all together into one huge catastrophe-waiting-to-happen makes for great theater, but it makes no sense to those of us who work with these programs every day. While all 3 are entitlement programs, that’s about all they have in common.

But combining them all together gives you very large and impressive numbers, particularly if you accumulate decades-worth of future projections into one present day number. In a way, it’s not that different than projecting the cost of a house today by adding together 30 year’s-worth of mortgage and interest payments into one lump sum. If we really shopped for housing that way, we would all still be renting apartments.
And as for all the sky-is-falling crisis rhetoric...
Many of the people who are complaining today about long-term spending on entitlements were largely silent when annual deficits were increasing and the debt was rising to its current record level. It wasn’t too long ago that we were running a surplus which was paying down debt, and economists were wringing their hands about what disasters might befall us if we actually paid all of our debt off. I wish we still had that kind of problem.

I also find it interesting that the only solvency solution presented by President Bush and so many of those who have opposed Social Security over the years is a combination of private accounts and dramatic benefit cuts. I was quite proud of my members, who have been vocal and active in their opposition to private accounts. But their passion was not born from a desire to protect their own benefits. It was an absolute determination to protect the benefits of their children and grandchildren.

Those who promote private accounts have never suggested privatizing Social Security for older people – in fact, they are quite careful to assure everyone over age 50 that they would not be affected by anything they propose.

Instead, those who promote private accounts suggest dismantling Social Security slowly so that it is nearly non-existent for future generations. These proposals take money out of Social Security to fund private accounts, making Social Security less solvent. They would cut Social Security benefits for future retirees; they would increase the public debt by trillions of dollars over the next half century or more, and they would transfer the risk of a secure retirement to the individual. This does not sound like a youth-friendly agenda to me.

We urge you to read Barbara’s entire speech for more details on the fiscal realities facing our children and grandchildren. It’s clear that groups like those sponsoring this summit understand they have to continue to undermine younger generations’ confidence in Social Security in order to convince them to give it up or destroy it through privatization.

We’ve also taken our “Don’t Buy the Lie” campaign to our YouTube Channel and MySpace page in an effort to reach this demographic with the truth about Social Security and Medicare.