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Expecting the check will be in the mail

Alan Greenspan’s comments to a House panel Wednesday sent shock waves through Washington and revived the Social Security problem as a major  issue.  NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Inside a small, private elementary school in Manhattan, Mimi Basso came to work Thursday morning thinking about retirement.  She has no plans to retire, but these days has worries about getting back all the Social Security money she paid in, “I am entitled to the money. It’s my money. I’ve saved it!”   

A few miles away at an American Association of Retired Persons meeting in New York, it was a very hot topic. “It shouldn’t be a matter of maybe, but it should be a definite decision made to preserve Social Security,” said AARP member Gwendolyn Vaughn.

And it struck a chord in Baltimore, where Social Security was the talk of talk radio. One listener complained: “I’m angry about this!”

Greenspan’s testimony made news instantly, but the truth is, he’s said it many times before.  The difference is this is an election year — deficits are growing, and the economy is front and center.

There’s another difference. Greenspan is appointed and not elected, and any change in Social Security is potential political suicide if you’re looking to be re-elected.

“Its too hot, it’s too explosive, and frankly neither side will see the benefit of doing what Alan Greenspan says they ought to do,” said Leon Panetta, President Clinton’s chief of staff.

Back when President Franklin Roosevelt launched Social Security — even when President Lyndon Johnson launched Medicare — Americans didn’t live as long as they do today.  “Back when Social Security was enacted, people were only living until 61 on average,” said economist David Resler.

Some say fear may be the best motivator to fix Social Security.  If Americans get fired up over it, the political will to get it right may be there. 

Basso says that money had better be there when she needs it: “The day I turned 16 I got a job, and every single paycheck has had this deduction for Social Security and for Medicare.  For 34 years, I’ve been counting on this money to fund my retirement.”

Basso turns 65 in 15 years and will join close to 70 million other retirement-age Americans assuming the check is in the mail.