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Rhetoric Rules Debate on Social Security Reform

The future of your Social Security benefits is at great risk and trapped in a system hurtling toward bankruptcy. Or maybe your government-sponsored retirement benefits are just fine. It all depends on whom you ask.

Uncertainty about the financial health of the Social Security system is playing a huge role in Americans' retirement planning -- and likely will work its way into the fall election season. President George W. Bush and the presumptive Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, as well as candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, will offer their ideas for fixing a retirement benefit system some critics say is beyond repair.

The recent release of a key government report that says the system is in better shape than generally believed brings the debate into focus once again, though it doesn't directly address the issue of private retirement accounts, support for which is pretty much split along partisan lines.

About 47 million people now receive some form of Social Security benefits, but the projected increase of 30 million more baby boomer beneficiaries has observers of every ideological stripe concerned the system won't be able to keep up.

The Congressional Budget Office said the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2052, a decade later than the long-term predictions issued by the trustees of the retirement system. The latest report also says Social Security spending will jump from its current 4.4% share of the gross domestic product to more than 6% by 2030, while current federal revenue dedicated to the system will remain steady at about 5% of GDP.

The CBO report was intended to update lawmakers on the state of the Social Security system, and complement its reports on Medicare and Medicaid spending, issued at the end of last year, a spokesman for the office said.

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