A disclaimer may be necessary-- there are two disciplines that as of yet I've been unable to wrap my head around, Math and Economics. Having said that let me walk you through the proposed Bush reform of the Social Security program in a non-economist written, comprehensible, sort of way.
As we've already heard in both the State of the Union, the proposed budget, and in every newspaper this country has to offer, the Bush administration is laying claim to the belief that Social Security is in "crisis." Crisis may not be quite the word I would choose, but as Ted Kennedy, the honorable senior senator from Massachusetts says: "We have an Administration that falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis."
The easiest way to understand the supposed crisis is like this: By 2018 the benefits being paid out to retirees and the disabled will exceed the amounts being paid in by the workers payroll tax. (It is similar to a budget deficit--the amount of money the government spends in excess of the amount it receives in taxes.) The administration is predicting the system will be bankrupt by 2042. Having determined this, President Bush is proposing the idea of personal accounts (i.e. privatizing Social Security).
Now the whole idea itself, forget its merits and follies, may just be an attempt for Mr. Bush to push through Congress an agenda he has been supporting/proposing since he first entered public office. It seems to be a wise attempt...like the visit I'm predicting Pres. Bartlett on the West Wing this week will orchestrate with Castro...to save a floudering soon-to-be lame duck presidency.
Not only have the Democrats jumped on the bandwagon against President Bush's plan---many key Republicans are a little skeptical. Recently Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tennessee, Senate Majority Leader), though not directly against privatizing Social Security, states that this reform will not pass in this session of Congress, nor does he believe it can pass next year. Election, elections, elections.
Another leader of the fight against Bush's proposed plan is AARP. AARP is singly the loudest voice for retirement-age Americans and they're doing everything in their power to lobby, persuade, and prevent. The ads AARP is putting out are interesting--but they're taking a certain amount of heat as well from the right.
Not being an expert on any of this, I would recommend reading TIME magazine for Jan. 24, 2005, the several articles Molly Ivins has written on the topic, and an op-ed piece from The Wall Street Journal. And if you're really interested and/or bored, this week CSPAN is running the Senate budget committee debates.
There are numerous follies to Bush's agenda-- several of which I'm sure you are all hearing in mass quantity, but my biggest concern is why this administration is putting so much faith in a fiscally responsible teenager (isn't that an oxy-moron?). That's all I've got, forgive my economics. This could be an interesting and heated issue for the administration, but let me remind you that on my poll regarding the most important issue of Bush's 2nd term, not one vote went to Social Security.