The Social Security trust fund must be kept away from the federal government's "grubby hands," John Salazar said Thursday.
During a brief town hall meeting in Steamboat Springs, U.S. Rep. Salazar reiterated his position that the Social Security trust fund should be used only to pay out Social Security benefits and not to create personal savings accounts. Too often, he said, the government uses the trust fund to balance budgets and pay for the pet projects of politicians.
Salazar, the freshman congressman from the 3rd Congressional District, recently introduced legislation that would have prevented money in the Social Security trust fund from being used to establish personal savings accounts, a major system reform proposed by President Bush. Salazar's legislation was turned away on a procedural vote in the House.
"We fought hard on that bill, we lost it, and we'll continue to fight for it," Salazar said.
Congress has plenty of time to work on Social Security reform, he said. If current economic growth remains stable, the Social Security trust fund will remain solvent until 2052, Salazar said. Other estimates suggest the fund won't be able to pay out promised benefits as early as 2041.
"We have time to work on this," Salazar said. "It's got to be done in a bipartisan manner."
Audience member Doug Ihoe asked Salazar why Congress wasn't cutting the programs it funds by borrowing from the Social Security trust fund.
"We have to get the money away from Congress," Ihoe said. "Short of private accounts, I don't see where it's going, except back out the door."
Privatizing Social Security would mean a 40 percent cut in benefits, Salazar said, something he finds unacceptable.
"For many, (Social Security) is the only source of retirement (benefits)," he said. "I will continue to fight to make sure these benefits that were promised will continue."
Salazar spoke to a Centennial Hall audience of about 60 people for 15 minutes before opening the meeting to questions and comments from attendees. Social Security and immigration issues dominated much of the 45-minute meeting.
One audience member proposed legitimizing illegal workers so that they would pay Social Security taxes. Such a measure would benefit working immigrants and bolster Social Security, the man said.
Another audience member voiced concern about illegal immigrants sending the money they earn in the United States to their families in Mexico.
"I don't want to support Mexico," the woman said. "I don't think that's our job."
Salazar said illegal immigrants contribute $10 billion annually to the U.S. economy and perform jobs many Americans won't do. Salazar said he doesn't support illegal immigration.
Audience members also raised energy policy and efficiency issues. Salazar said rural communities could be significant players in renewable energy development.