Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Barack Obama Will Preserve Social Security

By GROMER JEFFERS JR. / The Dallas Morning News

CINCINNATI – Campaigning in Ohio on Monday, Barack Obama pledged to preserve Social Security and help get families enough money for retirement.

"For millions of Americans, Social Security is the difference between a comfortable retirement and a risk of poverty," Mr. Obama said at a roundtable discussion. "We have to make sure social security is there for future generations."

The Democratic candidate said he would not raise the national retirement age, cut benefits or privatize Social Security.

Instead, he would lift the cap on the payroll tax. Under the current system, the tax is capped at $97,000, which means the richest people in the nation are paying a similar tax rate than their poorer counterparts.

Mr. Obama said he would also help retirees by developing automatic workplace retirement plans. Such plans would allow employers to directly deposit money into a retirement account. The company could match additional contributions made by employees. The government would match contributions on the first $1,000 for families making less than $75,000 a year.

"We have to encourage savings so it's easy to retire," Mr. Obama said. "This would put a secure retirement within greater reach for millions of working families."

Mr. Obama said he also would develop ways to protect pensions and work to prevent "golden parachutes" for executives fleeing a sinking company.

"Even if you work hard and play by the rules, you risk losing everything if your company goes bankrupt," he said.

Mr. Obama is campaigning heavily in Ohio, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading and making a ferocious stand.

Both candidates are expected in Texas in the coming days. Both states have Democratic primaries on March 4.

At the roundtable discussion, he heard from Ohioans who had lost their jobs, insurance and ability to save for retirement.

Lenora Anderson wept openly when telling Mr. Obama how she struggled to care for her ailing mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

And Karen Roettele said she lost her construction job after her husband's death and now has to dip into her retirement savings.

Mr. Obama said he understood the tears. And he described how his mother died of cancer at age 53 and was worried about paying her bills.

"This stuff breaks me up," he said.

Colleen Munninghaff, a roundtable participant, said she was an undecided voter.

"I understand the younger kids are getting on the Obama bandwagon and that's great," she said. "But what are you going to do for us?"

Mr. Obama said that he was the better choice because he could bring people together to solve problems.

"We're going to need someone who can reach across the aisle," he said.

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