THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
|December 28, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT SOCIAL SECURITY AND Y2K EVENT
Old Executive Office Building
10:35 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, one of the things that shemight have told you is that before she volunteered for the NationalCouncil of Senior Citizens for 20 years, she was an employee until1972, when she retired, of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.Therefore, she worked for the Treasury Department. And on New Year'sEve, she will be 90 years old. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, before I get into my remarks,because this is the only opportunity I will have to appear before thepress today, I think I should say a few words about an incident earlythis morning over the skies of Iraq, where American and British aircrews were enforcing a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq. They were firedon by Iraq surface-to-air missiles. They took evasive action,returned fire on the missile site, and returned safely to their basein Turkey.
We enforce two no-fly zones in Iraq, one in the North,established in 1991; another in the South, established in 1992, whichnow stretches from the southern suburbs of Baghdad down to theKuwaiti border. The no-fly zones have been and will remain animportant part of our containment policy. Because we effectivelycontrol the skies over much of Iraq, Saddam has been unable to useair power to repress his own people or to lash out again at hisneighbors. Our pilots have the authority to protect themselves ifthey're threatened or attacked. They took appropriate action todayin responding to Iraq's actions.
Once again, I want to tell you I am very proud of thework they do, the risks they take, the skill and the professionalismwith which they do it. They attacked because they were attacked.And they did the appropriate thing. We will continue to enforce theno-fly zones.
Now, let me say, this is a very happy announcementtoday. And I want to thank Secretary Rubin -- who most peopleassociate with saving the economy, not saving Social Security, butthat's an important part of his job, too. I want to thank KathyAdams, who is one of the those people in the government that makes itgo and never gets enough credit for it. So I'm delighted to see herup here and through her, all the other people who work every day tomake America work.
I've already told you about Pauline Johnson Jones. AndI want to say, too, I have been very moved by how passionate KenApfel has been about making sure that this problem got solved,and today we saw that he has a vested interest in it --(laughter.) He doesn't want his father to cut him out of hiswill -- (laughter) -- and everybody always needs to be in betterstead with their in-laws. (Laughter.)
You know, this Y2K problem is a stunning problem -- oh, oneother thing. I want to acknowledge the presence here in theaudience of the member of Congress from Guam, Congressman RobertUnderwood, his wife and their five children. They're here; we'redelighted to see all of them. We're delighted that they're herewith us in this cold weather, instead of on warm and sunny Guamtoday.
We just heard that the new millennium is only 368 days away.And we want it to be a carefree celebration. The reason we'rehere today is to announce that on New Year's Day 2000, and onevery day that follows, people like Pauline can rest easy becausethe millennium bug will not delay the payment of Social Securitychecks by a single day.
The Social Security system is now 100 percent compliant withour standards and safeguards for the year 2000. To makeabsolutely certain, the system has been tested and validated by apanel of independent experts; the system works, it is secure.And therefore, older Americans can feel more secure.
I thank all those who are responsible. This is a good dayfor America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
The Social Security Administration and the FinancialManagement Service can be proud. The Social Security Agency wasthe very first one to start work on the Y2K problem; it's been aleader and a model ever since. They couldn't have done it, thesetwo agencies, if they hadn't worked as a team. Social Securitygenerates the Social Security payments; the Financial ManagementServices issues those payments. They are in this together.
Indeed, we're all in this together. This involves not justfederal agencies, but every one who depends upon a computer,which is every one directly or indirectly. Federal and stategovernments and local governments, businesses large and small,the year 2000 problem reveals the connections between all of us.
We also, I want to point out, have been working very hardwith other countries -- Sally Katzen just told me that there wasa meeting at the United Nations recently where we met withrepresentatives of 120 other countries who are all now workingtogether to solve this, because, as all of you know, a lot of oureconomy is tied up with economic endeavors throughout the world,so even a problem a long way from our shores can haveramifications within our borders. And of course, we don't wantany of our friends and neighbors hurt by this change, either.
People are meeting this challenge, but I think a lot ofpeople can still hardly imagine what caused this. I mean,computers, after all, are supposed to save us time, right? And Iwas describing this Y2K problem to Hillary, and she got sotechnophobic that I gave her a little digital alarm clock forChristmas and she gave it back to me after I talked to her aboutit, and she said, why don't you just go get me one that winds upthat I can change in my hand. (Laughter.)
It happened, you know, because in the older computers thememory put on the chip was precious and much more limited thanthe phenomenal capacity of computer chips today, so that, ineffect, they were all programmed, these older computers, just tochange the last two digits on the four numbers of any date. Andso what would happen is, when you get to the year 2000, it wouldshow 1900 instead of 2000, because there is no provision for the19 to go to 20, because of the limitations of memory in the oldercomputer chips. The problem is, obviously, that a lot of new computers arealso interconnected with older computers and a lot of peoplecan't even be sure what chips are in what computers and whatlinks are there. That's what makes this labor-saving device ofthe computer present the most labor-intensive problem imaginable.Retired people have had to come back -- people with skills inworking with the old computers have had to come back to help allkinds of businesses figure out how to unravel this problem. Itsounds so simple, but it is so mammoth because you have toidentify what computers and what chips are where and what theinterconnections are.
And so it's an enormous, enormous effort, and we really, allof us, are so indebted to these people who have been recognizedtoday with these two agencies, and to others all across thecountry who are working on this problem in the public and in theprivate sectors.
I say again, the American people don't know who -- or didn'tbefore today -- know who Kathy Adams was. They don't know any ofthe people who are working with her. But when they get thechecks for the first Social Security payment in the newmillennium, it will be because of them. And I would just ask theAmerican people today to be very sensitive, because there arepeople like Kathy Adams working in all these agencies, in stateand local government and all these businesses throughout thecountry, and they need to be encouraged. And those who have notyet undertaken this task need to get on it and get on it nowbecause we just have a little more than a year to get the jobdone.
Now, we have made sure that Social Security checks will keepcoming in the year 2000. I'd also like to say that after we gotthe computer problem behind us, we have to continue to focus onthe larger issue, the policy issue, which is to make sure theSocial Security checks keep coming throughout the 21st century.All of you know that at present rates of contribution andpayment, present rates of retirement, present rates of aging andbirth and immigration, we estimate that the Social Security trustfund will be exhausted in about 34 years. We have typicallytried to keep the life of the trust fund at about 75 years tomake sure it was absolutely stable. Thirty-four years seems likea long time away -- I suppose the younger you are, the furtheraway it seems. It doesn't seem so far to me now, because thingsthat happened 34 years ago are implanted in my mind as if theyoccurred only yesterday.
But we are going to face early next year a great challengeof fashioning a bipartisan solution to save Social Security forthe 21st century. I tell everybody it is a formidable problem,but it will only get worse if we delay it. And it is ahigh-class problem -- we have this problem because we're livinglonger. The average life expectancy of the American people, asreported just a few weeks ago, exceeds 76 years. And that is ahigh-class problem. We should be grateful for this problem.
When Social Security was established and there was no earlyretirement at 62, and you couldn't draw until '65, the averagemale life expectancy in America was 56 -- in the 1930s. So we'vegone from 56 to over 76, and of course, for women it's a coupleof years higher. And as Pauline says, women are especiallydependent on Social Security for reasons that I think would beobvious to anyone, and therefore, have a particularly large stakein our resolving this problem in a prompt and appropriate way.
Now, in the last year -- in this year, 1998 -- I have gonearound the country and held these bipartisan forums. Members ofCongress in both Houses and both parties have taken a specialinterest and have been very good to attend these forums. Just afew days ago, we had a two-day first White House Conference onSocial Security. The second day I went over to Blair House andmet with nearly 50 members of Congress from both parties and bothHouses. It was an astonishing outpouring of genuine interest.
Now, I don't want to minimize the problems, and they'redifferent from the Y2K problem. The Y2K problem, you know whatto do to fix it once you identify it. Here we've identified itand there are obvious differences about what should be done tofix Social Security for the 21st century. But we all know thatthere are basically only three options: We can raise taxesagain, which no one wants to do because the payroll tax isregressive. Over half the American people who are working paymore payroll tax than income tax today. We can cut benefits andit might be all right for someone like me who has a goodretirement plan, but it's not a very good idea for someone likePauline. Or we can work together to try to find some way toincrease the rate of return. And there are a number of optionsthat we are discussing.
The point I want to make to all of you is that we have thesame obligation to fix the system in policy terms for the 21stcentury that these fine people we honor today have discharged infixing the Y2K problem. And if we approach it with the samecan-do attitude and the same determination to reach a result, wecan achieve that.
So today we celebrate and I hope the celebration that wehave today will steel our determination to make sure that peoplelike Pauline can be making this speech 50 years from now.
Thank you very much, and happy New Year. (Applause.)