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IN THE NEWS - September 1, 2001: Federal Budget/Social Security - 2001-08-31

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

American budget experts say the federal government’s budget surplus will be gone soon. Taxes paid by Americans had created thousands of millions of dollars more than the federal government needed. However, the budget surplus now is forty-five percent less than it was four months ago.

The Congressional Budget Office, known as the C-B-O, released a report this week. The C-B-O is a non-political agency that advises Congress about budget issues. It says the federal surplus will continue to shrink because of the weak economy and President Bush’s plan to return tax money to the public. It says the government will have to begin paying for federal programs with money that is part of the Social Security system. Social Security is paid for by a separate tax on wages. American workers receive money from Social Security when they retire.

Since Nineteen-Eighty-Three, Social Security has collected more in taxes from workers each year than it has needed to pay. This has created a surplus of money in the Social Security system.

C-B-O experts say the government will need to use some of the Social Security surplus in the next federal spending year, which begins September Thirtieth. Officials said about nine-thousand-million dollars of this money would be needed to pay for next year’s proposed government spending plan. They said that the tax cuts and slow economic growth will create a need to use Social Security money for the next two years.

Officials of the Bush administration say it is still too soon to tell if Social Security money will be needed. They say the tax money being returned to the public could help the economy improve.

Economic experts say the C-B-O report means Congress must now closely examine the Bush Administration’s new spending proposals. These include more money for defense, a missile defense system, education improvements, and aid for older citizens who need medical drugs.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have said the Social Security surplus must not be used to pay for government spending. They say any surplus can be used only for decreasing the national debt.

Mitch Daniels is the budget director for the Bush administration. He says the Social Security surplus has been used in the past for purposes other than paying money to retired Americans. He said it would be a mistake to not support increased spending proposals for defense and education.

Congress has not approved any of the thirteen spending bills needed to keep the government operating past September Thirtieth. Congress must now examine each of the thirteen bills to see if any money can be cut from the spending proposals. Political experts say that some very difficult decisions will have to be made.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.