Q Mr. President, I’ve been sleeping in my truck for two days to ask you this question. (Laughter.) I am recovering from lung cancer. I tried to get Social Security disability and they turned me down. My question to you is, we can talk about Social Security a little bit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Social Security -- here’s my commitment -- I don’t know about the other folks, but I’ll make a commitment as long as I’m President of the United States -- Social Security will not only be there for you, but it’s also going to be there for the next generation and the generation after that because it’s one of the most important social insurance programs that we have. (Applause.) And by the way, you pay into Social Security. They call it an entitlement, but it’s not an entitlement; you’re paying for it. It’s getting taken out of your paycheck.
So it is true that as the population gets older there’s going to be more and more pressure on the Social Security system. But the Social Security system is not the cause of our debt and deficit. (Applause.) So don’t let folks fool you by saying that in order to get a handle on our debt we’ve got to slash Social Security. There are some modest adjustments that can be made that will make it solvent for 75 years -- and that’s about as long as you can think ahead as a country.
And the way to do it is similar to the way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill fixed Social Security back in 1983. They said, okay, we’ll make some modest adjustments that are phased in over a very long period of time; most folks don’t notice them. But if we do that, and all the money goes back into Social Security -- it doesn’t go anywhere else -- then there’s no reason why Social Security won’t be there for future generations. But, again, this is an example of where everybody gets so dug in on their positions.
And I have to say, in fairness -- because I’ve commented on the other side not always being flexible -- there have been times where our side -- when Democrats aren’t always as flexible as we need to be. I mean, sometimes I do get frustrated when I hear folks say, you can’t make any changes to any government programs. Well, that can’t be right. I mean, most companies every year, they’re kind of thinking, what can we do better? Are there some changes we could make in order to have the operation go a little smoother? The government should have to do the same thing. But that doesn’t mean we have to make radical changes that dismantle what is the most important social insurance program that we have. But, again, the problem is not the program, the problem is our politics.
You’ll hear a lot of folks, by the way, say that government is broken. Well, government and politics are two different things. Government is our troops who are fighting on our behalf in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s government. (Applause.) Government are also those FEMA folks when there’s a flood or a drought or some emergency who come out and are helping people out. That’s government. Government is Social Security. Government are teachers in the classroom. (Applause.) Government are our firefighters and our police officers, and the folks who keep our water clean and our air clean to breathe, and our agricultural workers. And when you go to a national park, and those folks in the hats -- that’s government.
So don’t be confused -- as frustrated as you are about politics, don’t buy into this notion that somehow government is what’s holding us back. Now, too much government -- if it’s oppressive and bureaucratic and it’s not listening to people and it’s not responsive to the needs of people and isn’t customer friendly -- that’s a problem. And if you stand in line at some government office and nobody seems to be paying any attention to you, well, that needs to be fixed. And if somebody is trying to regulate a small business and they’re not paying attention to the realities of the small business, that’s a problem.
But don’t buy into this whole notion that somehow government doesn’t do us any good; government is what protects us. The government is what built the Interstate Highway System. Government is what sent a man to the Moon. It’s what invested in the research and development that created innovations all across this country. (Applause.)