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Brooks Jackson: A fact check of Bush, Gore financial plans

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- George W. Bush says he would pay off the national debt in just 16 years. Al Gore says he would protect Medicare.

"I will put Medicare in an iron-clad lockbox," Gore declared during the second presidential debate.

But do their numbers add up?

Now a new report says both candidates' claims are "incomplete, at times internally inconsistent, potentially misleading and leave many questions unanswered." It was released by the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan group of number-crunchers.

"Neither one of them really fixes the problem completely," said Ron Gebhardstbauer, a pension expert at the American Academy of Actuaries, who analyzed the Bush and Gore Social Security plans. "They do a little bit here and there, but it's not going to solve the problem."

He says Bush's plan to let younger workers put some of their Social Security taxes into private accounts would rob the government of so much money it would bring back federal deficits by the year 2015, making it impossible to pay off the debt by 2016 as promised.

He also looked at Gore's plan to prop up the existing Social Security system with up to $250 billion a year in general revenues, starting in the year 2011.

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His conclusion is that will be far less than needed to make up the Social Security shortfall. Eventually, Gore's plan would require new deficits, increased taxes or reduced Social Security benefits.

Guy King, former chief actuary of the federal Medicare system, analyzed the rivals' Medicare plans. King says Gore's "lockbox" isn't really iron-clad, it is "imaginary" -- and "does nothing to cover the significant shortfalls" that begin in a few more years.

He also says Bush's plan to restructure Medicare "does not provide sufficient detail to judge the cost or long-term impact."

Both the Bush and Gore campaigns reject these findings. The Bush campaign says the actuaries underestimate future economic growth. The Gore campaign says Gore never claimed his Medicare "lockbox" would do more than delay the system's insolvency.

 

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Thursday, October 26, 2000


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