Members of Congress in both parties could be approaching a consensus on potential changes to Social Security, the cherished but financially troubled public retirement program. With the deficit rising and Social Security getting more expensive, everyone is looking for ways to tighten to federal belt. It's just talk at this point, but the talk is of significant changes. Here's what's being discussed and what it would mean.
- Bipartisan Interest in Raising Retirement Age Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler reports, "Is there a new, bipartisan consensus forming on Capitol Hill about whether (and how) to scale back Social Security benefits? A surprising number of signs point to 'yes' -- and that has many progressives looking ahead a few months to what they believe could become a serious fight. Several of the most powerful members of the House -- Republicans and Democrats -- have recently voiced real support for the idea of raising the retirement age for people middle-aged and younger as part of a larger plan to reduce long-term deficits, inching closer to what not too long ago was the third rail of American politics."
- Why This Is a 'Terrible Idea' Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias explains, "This is, I think, a pretty terrible idea. As I've said before, if we're going to cut spending on retirement programs then it makes much more sense to reduce Medicare outlays by $1 than to reduce Social Security benefits by $1. ... if you want to cut Social Security benefits you should just cut Social Security benefits. Reducing outlays via the mechanism of a higher retirement age is going to mean that the incidence of the cuts falls most heavily on people with physically taxing--or simply boring and annoying--jobs. It's one of the most regressive possible ways of trimming spending."
- Pass Job Stimulus Bills Instead Daily Kos's Joan McCarter suggests, "Here's something our Members of Congress should be occupying their noggins with: the middle-aged and older are the largest group of the long-term unemployed. A little job creation could potentially go a long way here. Maybe if they actually were working, and contributing into the system by paying both income and Social Security taxes, our economic picture would be a little less bleak. Telling these people now--who want to be working--that they'll have an extra 15 years to be stigmatized by being unemployed is just cruel."
- Low Retirement Age Is Outdated The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus recounts a discussion with AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. "Ask Trumka about whether the eligibility age for Social Security, now 62 for partial benefits, should be raised. This former coal miner -- and son and grandson of coal miners -- erupts. His father worked 44 years in the mines, suffering from black lung, 'and if you had said to my dad, You have to work until you're 63, that would have been a death sentence.' Fair enough. Some people may need special protection. But, an editor asks, gesturing around the gleaming conference table at the middle-aged assembly, what about those who do not work in such punishing occupations and for whom the current system would provide two, maybe three, decades of benefits? 'What's wrong with that?' Trumka asks indignantly. 'The rest of the world does that!' Yes, and how are things going in Greece?"
- There Are Better Ways to Save Money The New Republic's Jonathan Chait sighs, "The liberals are correct, as I said, that you don't have to cut Social Security benefits. You could reduce the deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending on programs that serve no liberal benefit, like farm subsidies and wasteful defense programs. The problem is, there's no remotely plausible scenario where Democrats could enact a program like that. The public hates raising taxes, and wasteful tax loopholes and programs have powerful constituencies."