The Dec. 2 editorial "A Chance for Discussion," which called for a calm debate about Social Security financing, was right: This respite from the election cycle provides an opportunity to settle the issue.

Social Security faces no imminent crisis but rather a shortfall in the long term. The gap, seemingly large in dollars, is modest as contributions to the system are measured (an estimated 1.87 percent of payroll over 75 years). It can be almost closed by:

* Improving the accuracy of cost-of-living adjustments.

* Increasing the amount of annual earnings subject to taxation.

* Achieving universal coverage by including all state and local government employees hired after 2003.

* Taxing benefits as other pensions are taxed (i.e., to the extent they exceed what the worker paid in).

These changes would reduce the estimated imbalance to a mere 0.18 percent of payroll. If any of these proposals was rejected, the shortfall could be eliminated by shifting a modest amount of funds from general revenue or by allowing Social Security to make limited investments in indexed stock funds.

These changes would eliminate Social Security's long-term deficit and allow the program to go on doing what it has done so well for so many for so long. I also would add a program of strictly voluntary, supplemental individual savings accounts. Social Security's ability to produce an adequate basic benefit for nearly everyone would not be compromised, as it would be if the government siphoned off some funds to subsidize a new system of individual savings accounts, producing high benefits for some but low benefits for others.



The writer was commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 1962 to 1973.