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Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page A11

Budget Chief Warns Congress About Social Security Taxes

Social Security taxes will have to rise by half if lawmakers do not restructure the giant program, President Bush's budget chief said yesterday as the administration sought support for its proposed revisions.

The comments by Joshua B. Bolten came as Democrats accused the administration of hiding the costs of its plans for shoring up the pension system for the elderly and disabled.

The White House has talked about letting workers voluntarily divert part of their payroll taxes to investment accounts they would control, but it has not provided details. Democrats say the model most often described would cost more than $2 trillion over the first decade alone and hasten the program's fiscal problems.

"Rather than averting the so-called 'crisis' it decries, the administration's plan will create a crisis where currently only a challenge exists," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

In remarks to members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bolten said the 70-year-old program has failed to change with the times. The number of workers paying Social Security taxes has shrunk compared with the number of retirees whose benefits they are supporting, yet more than 20 tax increases in recent decades have not fixed the imbalance, he said.

"All these tax increases did was push those problems out to be solved another day," Bolten said. "That day has arrived."

The trustees who oversee Social Security say the program will fall $3.7 trillion short of its obligations over the next 75 years, and the White House budget chief said the problem will grow by $600 billion each year it is not addressed.

Judge Blocks Future Grants To Faith-Based Group

A federal judge blocked the Bush administration from providing future "faith-based" grants to a Phoenix-based group that injected religion into its publicly funded programs.

The ruling is the first time a judge has struck down a grant through the president's faith-based initiative, which seeks to give religious groups equal footing in seeking federal grants to provide social services.

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services cut off funds to MentorKids USA, which had a grant to mentor the children of prisoners, after evidence showed the group used public money to directly support activities such as religious instruction. U.S. District Judge John Shabaz's ruling Tuesday prohibits the agency from funding MentorKids in the future.

43 Senators Ask Bush For More Tsunami Aid

Forty-three senators are urging President Bush to budget for increased food aid to help victims of last month's tsunami in South Asia.

The group, led by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), wants Bush to include the food aid in a supplemental military appropriations bill that will be submitted to Congress in the next few weeks.

The senators want the food aid included in the appropriations bill so that existing food aid programs aren't drawn down.

-- From News Services

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