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SOCIAL SECURITY HEAD: PROGRAM FRAYING FROM NEGLECT

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Outgoing Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. Outgoing Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. Image Source: Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Outgoing Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue has some parting shots for Congress, the White House and advocates for seniors. They have all "really walked away from Social Security," he says, leaving the program "fraying because of inattention to its problems."

Instead of making the hard choices to fix Social Security's financial problems, policymakers "use it as a tool of political rhetoric," Astrue said.

Astrue, 56, has headed the federal government's largest program since 2006 — he was nominated by former President George W. Bush. By law, Social Security commissioners serve six-year terms, so President Barack Obama will now have the opportunity to choose his own nominee, who must be approved by the Senate. Astrue's last day on the job was Wednesday.

The trustees who oversee Social Security say the program's trust funds will run dry in 2033, leaving Social Security with only enough revenue to pay about 75 percent of benefits. Already the program is paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes.

As commissioner, Astrue served as a trustee. He regularly urged Congress to address Social Security's long-term financial problems but refrained from publicly weighing in on various options to cut benefits or raise taxes — until now.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Astrue said benefit cuts and tax increases are inevitable — despite fierce opposition to both. Yet he questions whether Congress is up to the task.

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