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Democratic candidates blast Greenspan comments

Proposed cuts to Social Security panned

Alan Greenspan testifies before the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Alan Greenspan testifies before the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

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U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan tells a congressional panel the Social Security retirement age may need to be raised.
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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential contenders on Wednesday condemned Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's warning that future cuts in Social Security and Medicare spending will be necessary.

"If I'm president, we're simply not going to do it," Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said during a campaign stop in Ohio, one of 10 states holding Democratic presidential contests next week.

Kerry's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, called Greenspan's proposal an "outrage."

Distancing himself from Greenspan, President Bush said he did not believe current retirees' benefits should be cut, but restated his support for allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private accounts.

Bush insisted that his proposed budget would cut the current projected deficit of more than $500 billion in half within five years.

"As you know, in the 2000 campaign I articulated a point of view that we ought to have personal savings accounts for younger workers that would make sure those younger workers receive benefits equal to or greater than that which is expected," Bush told reporters at the White House. "I still maintain the same position."

Greenspan warned a House committee Wednesday that growing federal budget deficits and the retirement of Baby Boomers will require future cuts in Social Security and Medicare to avoid tax increases that would damage the economy. Since that population will begin to draw Social Security benefits within the decade, he said Congress has a "reasonably short" time to head off a crisis.

Greenspan's testimony to the House Budget Committee brought quick criticism from the Democratic campaign trail.

Kerry, the front-runner, said cutting Social Security would be "the wrong way to cut the deficit."

"I welcome this debate," he said. "This is a debate that I will win, and we will win, and we will restore our economy in a way that is fair to Americans without destroying the solemn contract of Social Security in this nation."

Edwards also weighed in with a written statement.

"Alan Greenspan is right to call attention to the record-shattering deficit under President George Bush," the senator said. "But it is an outrage for him to suggest that we should extend George Bush's tax cuts on unearned wealth while cutting Social Security benefits that working people earn."

Greenspan told the House committee that the Bush tax cuts -- the centerpiece of the president's economic policy -- would benefit the economy over the long run and should be extended, as the president is asking Congress to do.

Edwards proposed rolling back the tax cuts on wealthy Americans, saying doing that -- combined with a new tax on the richest 1 percent of taxpayers and the elimination of corporate subsidies and wasteful spending -- would reduce the deficit and shore up Social Security's fiscal foundations.

Greenspan said he does not support cutting benefits to current retirees.

"We have an obligation to those in and near retirement to honor what has been promised to them," he said.

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