Republicans look to adjust Social Security

House Republican Study Committee releases budget plan that would increase Social Security Retirement Age from 67 to 69 as program approaches insolvency

 

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BY ALEXANDER BOLTON - 03/22/24 5:30 AM ET

Republicans are battling among themselves over whether to push reforms to reduce Social Security spending, with some conservatives rallying around the idea of raising the retirement age.

Republicans pushing reforms to Social Security argue that raising the retirement age would not cut benefits and would be phased in slowly so as not to affect people near retirement age.

But others in the party warn that talking about delaying Social Security benefits in an election year is political malpractice and would give Democrats a golden opportunity to accuse GOP candidates of wanting to cut Social Security.

“Horrible idea. Totally opposed to this,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said of raising the retirement age, even for people who don’t plan to retire soon.

“What a terrible idea. If Republicans want to be in the minority party forever then go ahead and endorse that,” he said.

“Republicans are so stupid. If they want to go to working people and say, ‘Congratulations, you have paid into this your whole life — your payroll taxes — and now we’re going to take part of it away from you, we’re going to make you work even longer than we said beforehand,’ I just think that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

Republican calls to reform Social Security got fresh attention when the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), which includes more than 170 GOP lawmakers, released a budget plan this week calling for “modest adjustments to the retirement age for future retirees to account for increases in life expectancy.”

Advocates of raising the Social Security retirement age in the past have proposed raising it from 67 to 69, though the RSC budget did not cite specific numbers.

The RSC budget also called for lowering benefits for the highest-earning beneficiaries, an idea that proponents call “means testing.”

Republicans who have called for reforms to entitlement programs have said it is important to consider changes given the nation’s rising debt and to keep the programs solvent.

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But Democrats pounced on the proposal to argue that Republicans would cut Social Security if they regain control of the White House and Senate.

They also sought to tie the proposal to former President Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee who has recently flirted with Social Security reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) denounced the plan on the Senate floor Thursday as “cruel” and “way out of line with what most Americans want.”

“The Republican Study Committee called for over $1.5 trillion in cuts to Social Security. It’s just like former President Donald Trump, who said recently that ‘There is a lot you can do’ regarding cuts to Social Security,” he said.

Trump later walked back his comments, made in an interview on CNBC with host Joe Kernen, telling Breitbart News that as president he “will never do anything that will hurt or jeopardize Social Security.”

Republicans who want their party to steer clear of Social Security in an election year warn that it’s known as the “Third Rail” of politics because it’s a highly charged issue that could burn anyone who dares touch it.

“It’s a terrible idea to talk about adjustments to Social Security of any kind without having a full discussion of our mandatory and discretionary spending,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) warned.

He said any talk about Social Security reform needs to be done as part of comprehensive deficit reduction talks that examine spending in all areas of government as well as tax policy.

“Putting out proposals on a piecemeal basis is going to do nothing but get political arrows fired at it,” he said.

“Talk about a gift to the Democrats. Seems like people have lost their political ear if they think any adjustments to the benefits of Social Security makes sense to talk about at any time, let alone during an election year,” he fumed.  

Social Security increasingly looks like it will be an issue in the presidential race, and President Biden used Trump’s comments to take a shot at Republicans during his State of the Union address. He raised the issue again during a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire.

“Many of my Republican friends want to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block again,” he said. “If anyone tries to cut Social Security or Medicare or raise the retirement age again, I will stop them.”

Some Republicans in Congress, however, say that their party can’t keep ignoring the problem. 

“Ultimately if you want to save Social Security for the next generation, you have to reform it. Several ideas for reform are raising the age, means testing it, looking at the taxation. All of it has to be looked at, all of it has to be discussed. Not because of anybody wants to cut Social Security but because we want to try to save it for the next generation,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said.

He noted that Congress raised the Social Security retirement age in 1983 from 65 to 67.

“It was done a responsible way, bipartisan, a couple of months a year. It’s not as painful if you do it gradually,” he said.

“Anybody who talks about reform gets excoriated by everybody, but the people who are unwilling to [reform the program] are really the people who should be excoriated because it’s predicted that Social Security will have a 20 percent reduction in payments to people” without changes to the program, Paul argued. 

Social Security trustees predict the program will not be able to pay full benefits in 2033 without changes to increase its revenues or slow its rate of spending. 

Biden has proposed some changes to bring in more revenue for Social Security, though they are all focused on wealthier households. Employers and employees now pay a 12.4 percent tax on income up to $168,600 annually. No tax is imposed on income above that level. Biden would create a “doughnut hole” in the tax by reimposing the 12.4 percent tax on income above $400,000.

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Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who is running to become the next Senate GOP leader, said Thursday he’s sympathetic with conservatives who want to raise the retirement age, even though it could blow up in Republicans faces in this year’s election. 

“I think if you did something along the lines of what was done back in the 1980s, and you phased it in, and you started it for younger people so it didn’t impact people who are retiring or near retirement age,” it could be politically palatable, he said. 

“Obviously there are going to have to be some things to make the program sustainable, or it gets about a 25 percent cut a few years from now when it runs out of money,” he said. “I think it’s an issue that we’ve got to deal with, and I’d rather deal with it sooner rather than later.”

Asked about his GOP colleagues’ fears that talking about raising the retirement age in an election year will give Democrats an avenue to attack Republicans for wanting to cut the popular program, Thune said: “They’re going to say that anyway. It’s part of the Democrat playbook.”

“But if you’re really interested in preserving these programs for not just this generation but the next generation, then we’ve got to be proceeding accordingly and at some point we got to confront the reality that both Social Security and Medicare are headed for bankruptcy,” he said. “We got to take it on. It’s going to take courage at some point. This maybe isn’t the season, but we can’t wait much longer to get after that.” 
 

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