It’s well past time for Congress to quit tippy-toeing around the issue of the health of Social Security and take actions that will ensure its vitality for generations to come.
Neither the president nor members of Congress seem willing to jeopardize their own re-election possibilities in order to provide for the good of all the members of American society.
The president’s own bi-partisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform produced numerous recommendations to fix the Social Security problem, yet no one has taken up the thrown gauntlet and displayed sufficient courage to tell the American electorate that changes are going to be necessary to assure our children and grandchildren that they will have a program to support them in their declining years, as we do now.
And despite continuing objections from the AARP and the roadblocks thrown up by this organization, the next generation has every right to expect the support that present retirees have.
Here are four options that could be taken to aid the continuing health of Social Security.
One, gradually raise the retirement age and do away with the option of early retirement except in cases of verified health problems. The retirement age is already rising and is now 66 for persons born between 1943 and 1954. The final scheduled rise will be to the age of 67 for those born in 1960 or later.
Considering the lengthening expectations for longevity, it makes little sense to not allow this limit to gradually creep upward. After all, the retirement age remained unchanged from the inception of Social Security in the 1930s until 1983 when the current creep was mandated. Allowing the retirement age to slowly rise to 69 or 70 would not impose undue burden for those whose lives are likely to be extended.
Two, remove the income limit to which FICA taxes are applied. It makes little sense to let the more affluent off the hook for these taxes simply because they are making very good wages. Since the amount of Social Security one gets is based on their lifetime salary profile, those with higher lifetime incomes would get more return.
Three, establish means testing for providing Social Security. Many affluent individuals and families will do exceedingly well during their working life, through investments and other enhancements. If it can be demonstrated that well-off potential recipients can maintain their lifestyle without the infusion of Social Security, they should be exempt from obtaining it. It would be a wonderful situation in which more Americans prospered during their lifetimes and subsequently had no need to depend on Social Security in their declining years. Such success would also benefit the economy during their working life.
Four, require that all members of Congress be enrolled in Social Security rather than have their retirements in a separate system (which is much more generous than what the average working person is entitled to receive). If all of Congress were enrolled in Social Security, it’s a pretty safe bet that there would never be any problems with keeping the system solvent.
Similar recommendations were made by the president’s commission (except for number four), but those recommendations stretch the programs out much farther into the future, and the commission was unlikely to make a recommendation like number four because many members of the commission were former legislators, although they did suggest that future state employees be placed in the Social Security system. Naturally, they would suggest inclusion of others into the system but ignore their own bloated benefits and those of their brethren.
It is disappointing that neither the president nor Congress is willing to address this issue head-on. We (hopefully) elect our representatives to act in our best interests. It would seem that there is too much self-interest in government today to expect that those in office will lower themselves to see the problems and difficulties which face hard-working Americans who struggle every day to keep their families together and sustained and hope for a few years of respite at the end of a working career.