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"I think that he raises an important point, but he's too pessimistic," said Robert Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.
John Rother, executive vice president of AARP, said it may not be known for years whether the law will generate the kind of savings anticipated on the trustees' report.
"The purpose of the law was to slow the growth in health care costs," Rother said. But, he added, "the fact is we really won't know until some of the regulations get spelled out."
The trustees said Social Security's finances have been hurt by the poor economy, but the effects have been partly offset by the health care overhaul. The actuaries assume the law will slow the growth of insurance costs, enabling employers to shift more compensation to wages. That would increase revenue from the payroll taxes that support Social Security.
In the short run, however, the recession is hurting revenues for the retirement and disability program.
For the first time since the 1980s, Social Security will pay out more money in benefits this year and next year than it collects in payroll taxes. The program will post surpluses for a few years after that before returning to permanent deficits in 2015. Unless Congress acts, the Social Security trust funds are expected to be exhausted in 2037. At that point, Social Security will collect enough in payroll taxes money to cover about three-fourths of the benefits owed.
"The fact that the costs for the program will likely exceed tax revenue this year is not a cause for panic, but it does send a strong message that it's time for us to make the tough choices that we know we need to make," Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said.
Obama has formed a bipartisan fiscal commission that is working on recommendations to improve government finances, including those for Social Security. Its recommendations are due in December.
More than 53 million people receive Social Security. Retirement benefits average $1,100 a month while disabled workers get an average of $1,065. Social Security is financed by a 6.2 percent payroll tax on wages below $106,800. The tax is paid by workers and matched by employers.
The Social Security trust funds have built up a $2.5 trillion surplus over the past 25 years. But the federal government has borrowed that money over the years to spend on other programs. The government must now start borrowing money from public debt markets -- adding to annual budget deficits -- to repay Social Security.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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