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Obama faces larger problems than Social Security shortfalls

Despite troubled economy, its trust fund should still be able to meet pension payments for another 30 years.

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Toward the end of his address to Congress last Tuesday, President Obama spoke of beginning a conversation on how to reform the Social Security program.

Such a suggestion makes Henry Aaron, a veteran analyst at the centrist Brookings Institution in Washington a bit edgy. Sure, he says, it's desirable to pay attention to Social Security, but "in the right way. It's better to do nothing than the wrong thing."

Obama spoke of Social Security right after calling for "comprehensive healthcare reform." Medicare and Medicaid are in far worse financial shape than Social Security. The nation's primary pension system could continue providing full benefits for decades to retirees and the handicapped without running short of money.

Economist Aaron worries that some Democrats will not be tough enough in bargaining with conservatives over Social Security changes if a bill comes before Congress. If that were to happen, the final bill could end up with unnecessary benefit reductions, he says.

The president himself, it's reported, originally considered forming a bipartisan task force to propose Social Security reforms to avoid a political dead end. But that idea ran into opposition from some Democrats and was dropped.

President George W. Bush proposed in 2005 partial privatization for younger Americans through personal savings accounts carved out of the fixed system. That proposal got nowhere in Congress.

Somewhat mysteriously, Obama mentioned creating "tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans" in his address to Congress.

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