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In the Loop

Lowering the Boom

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A17

What with Social Security apparently in dire straits, we called the Social Security Administration hot line the other day to get an update. A most apologetic recording said "your waiting time will be" nine minutes to speak to a real person. Given the gravity of the situation, that did not seem very long.

Besides, the tape played soothing music and calming voices -- alternating male and female -- offering useful advice from time to time. The chatter for several minutes was about how to apply for a new card or how to replace one and referrals to the agency Web site for other data.

_____In the Loop_____
Al Kamen (The Washington Post, Jan 17, 2005)
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Gonzales Witness Under Their Noses (The Washington Post, Jan 10, 2005)
Wolf at the Door (The Washington Post, Jan 7, 2005)
More In the Loop

_____Special Report_____
Social Security

Then came: ". . . in fact, the percentage of older Americans will about double between now and the year 2030. . . . While Social Security will be able to pay full benefits even a decade after that, until 2042, some long-range changes need to be made to ensure the system remains solvent for future generations."

Why, that proves precisely what President Bush has been saying lately to gain support for his plan to privatize a portion of Social Security!

We return quickly to some fine guitar riffs before our friends intone about the various Social Security programs. "Thanks for holding," our pal tells us. "A representative will be with you shortly."

We're slowly nodding off, vaguely hearing more thanks, soothing assurances about that "representative" when: "Did you know that the 76 million-strong baby boom generation will begin to retire in about 10 years?" No, we didn't.

"When that happens," our friend says, "changes will need to be made to Social Security. Changes to make sure there's enough money to continue paying full benefits. And most experts agree, the sooner those changes are made, the less they are going to cost."

Well, then, by golly, Congress better get moving right now!

Reminds us of comedian Kevin Nealon's "Subliminal Man" routine on "Saturday Night Live" of yore. Next thing you know, Ketchum public relations will be paying Armstrong Williams to tout "No Adult Left Behind."

Say You're Retiring in Baghdad. . .

Speaking of Social Security, there are rumblings on the Hill this week that Bush's proposals will be a hard sell. This could be much more difficult than uniting the country for war in Iraq.

After all, the imminent danger of attack from Saddam Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal, a ballistic missile attack that could hit all Americans regardless of where they lived, was something that most everyone agreed simply could not to be tolerated.

But fixing a system that won't break until 2042? That's a bit trickier in terms of rallying support. For example, say you're 50 now. You'll be 87 when benefits will have to be reduced. Will you be around? Is this not something to let the kids worry about?

Mars and Mickey Mouse

Tired of the cold? Thinking of heading south for a few days? Then you might want to accept NASA associate administrator Craig E. Steidle's invitation to NASA's "1st annual Space Exploration Conference" in Orlando on Jan. 30 to talk about Bush's idea to send someone -- former senator Thomas A. Daschle's not busy just now -- to Mars.

Cynics immediately noted the venue, Walt Disney World, and labeled the three-day gathering "Fantasy Land." But the 70 or so NASA headquarters folks expected to be there likely will be nice and warm, especially during the "2005 Space Exploration Golf Scramble," where you can "enjoy a meandering course that winds its way through pastel villas, pine forests, palmettos and sparkling lakes."

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