U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) warned residents Monday the federal deficit would reach $10 trillion by the year 2013 if tax cuts were not eliminated.
"Social security is not the problem," said Moran, "the deficit is the problem."
Handing such a deficit to the next generation would be an unbearable burden, as it would require the young people, now in their 20s, to pay an estimated $500 billion per year, while not receiving much in terms of benefits, as many government programs would be cut by that time, Moran said, noting the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates four government programs to survive to that time period. "We need to find a way to get rid of this debt," he said.
Social security was one of the two main issues discussed at the Town Hall Meeting, the first one held in 2005 by Moran in Reston. The meeting, held at Lake Anne Plaza Community Center on Monday, Jan. 24, attracted approximately 70 Reston residents, among them some community leaders.
Most at the meeting agreed with Moran that the current social security system is working well, but an opposing viewpoint was aired. Mike Hammer, of Reston, said the current system holds no accountability.
The system, created under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did not account for the shift in demographics that has happened since the 1930s, when the system was introduced. People today live longer than they did during the time the system was introduced. The money put into the system by the "newcomers," and used by those growing older, provides no incentives for the new workers to invest in the system, according to Hammer.
However, Hammer's arguments were debated by Moran, and others in the audience, who said the system is accountable. By making a phone call, an individual can find out how much money he or she put in the system, and how much money that individual is owed by the system. Eugene Eccli said he has received a full report on his status in the system for the past 10 years, and therefore considers it accountable. Moran said he considered the system accountable, as the money is there, like it would be in a bank. It is taken in, and then lent out, as a bank does with the money it has. "We have enough money to pay all the benefits promised until 2052," said Moran.
THE OTHER MAJOR ISSUE to come up at the meeting was U.S. involvement in Iraq. Moran reminded the public he voted against the war because there was no exit strategy. He said he is tempted to take the position of having the troops leave after the election, but has not taken it yet. "Over 90 percent of the casualties are American," said Moran, "and more than a 100 percent of the cost," as the U.S. overcompensates some of the countries in the "Coalition of the Willing." He said he did not think it was intelligent to act unilaterally in a world where friends are needed.
Moran noted the elections in Iraq are to take place on Jan. 30, and he does not view that favorably. He said the White House is hoping the elections will go smoothly, but added the pre-election period has been very violent. At this point, said Moran, the White House would consider a 10 percent turnout to be good. He disagrees, sympathizing with some Iraqi people who do not want the democracy United States is proposing, because it has supported some undemocratic governments in the region, most notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "That is a very bad part of the world," said Moran, "and one of the reasons it is, is because of our policies."
Trisha Derr, of Reston, said she was concerned the U.S. is going back to the days of willingly sending troops in harm's way, noting the mission in Bosnia was executed by precision bombing, not troops.
The troops know why they are there, and what they are doing, said Hammer, who has relatives serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, Moran said some of the troops he visited in Iraq did not know why they were there. According to Moran, those troops say they are there to get the Iraqis back for what they did to us on 9/11. "That is not the reason we are in Iraq," said Moran. He added a timetable for withdrawal was needed. Without it, the U.S. could stay in Iraq as many as five to 10 more years.
"WE HAVE TO LEARN to get past our pride," said Eccli, "to have an exit strategy." He said Vietnam could be an important analogy for the nation. The U.S. went into Vietnam to train the Vietnamese to handle the insurgents from the north, but failed because of inexperience, corruption, and lack of leadership. The ideology attempted on Vietnam was a foreigner's one, and the same goes for Iraq. Up to a half of Iraq's population, according to Eccli, may be sympathetic to the U.S., but is too intimidated to speak out.
Jim Robertshaw, of Reston, said the United States was losing respect in the world, and fighting the war badly. "When are we going to get the leadership in Congress and Senate and say 'enough is enough?'" The issue of leadership, or lack there of, came up on numerous occasions. In a meeting largely attended by Democrats, the issue of leadership was not only national, but partisan as well. The Democrats, according to many of the residents at the meeting, are lacking a leader, and Moran agrees. "Democrats don't have a clear leader," said Moran, "folks in the majority feel very much empowered after the last election." Many in the audience responded by asking what they could do to help shift, or balance, the power in the national government. Moran urged them to get involved in their local communities. "Every organization is an opportunity to activate," said Moran, "you can change the policy."
THE PROBLEM, ACCORDING to some in the audience, is that the Democrats sound like they are on the defensive all the time. Moran said one of the reasons the Republicans are so strong is because they are united behind an ideology, and he does not want the Democrats to do so. "We have no business taking personal positions," said Moran, "and imposing them on federal policies." He added that Democrats by nature are more nuanced in their policy-making than Republicans are.
Stuart Gibson, member of the Fairfax County School Board, representing Hunter Mill, said all of the issues discussed were important, but the priority should be to educate the next generation. In regards to education, Moran said he will fight to amend the No Child Left Behind Law. Gibson said educators needed to emphasize the "three T's:" technology, teamwork, and thinking. Schools, he said, need incentive to do well, not be punished for struggling to educate students who are having troubles understanding the language.
"Where are our priorities," asked Gibson, "we need to worry about Iraq and social security, but we need an educated citizenry, and that goes back to Thomas Jefferson." Moran said the nation is losing ground in education when compared to other nations in the world.
In order to measure where the U.S. stands in the world, said Moran, it needs to compare itself to the rest of the world. To retain its status as a leader, it has to become the most creative country in the world. Innovation needs to be advanced, and creativity and thinking encouraged more than they are.
Moran compared the health system of the United States to that of Canada, measuring it by longevity, cost, and happiness. "Canadians live longer, pay a fraction of what we pay for health, and are happy," said Moran. The decision to ban Canadian medication to enter the United States because it is "unsafe" is therefore unfounded, and made to protect the pharmaceutical companies. Moran urged the public to write to local newspapers, and get their ideas and views published.
The founder of Reston, Robert Simon, was among those who attended the meeting. He praised the many residents who came out despite the weather. He said it was exciting to have a good politician who knows what he is talking about talk to the citizens.