Jim Kolbe and Charlie Stenholm: Congress Cannot Afford to Punt on Social Security

Today, two of CRFB's co-chairman, former Representatives Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), penned an op-ed in The Hill, saying that the new Trustees report should give lawmakers a new sense of urgency over Social Security reform. Noting that the program's finances had deteriorated since last year and that disability insurance would become insolvent in just four years, they urged lawmakers to overcome the toxic politics of reform to strengthen the program's finances. Of course, the two would know well about the politics, having put out a bipartisan plan for Social Security reform themselves.

Over 75-years, the period during which the Trustees measure the “solvency” of the program, Social Security faces an actuarial shortfall of 2.67 percent of payroll, increasing to an annual deficit of 4.5 percent of payroll by the end of the 75-year window. Everyone knows Social Security is in trouble, and everyone knows why. Our leaders in Washington have not made the important changes necessary to keep the system funded as the baby boom population retires and we all enjoy the benefits of higher life expectancy.

Yet those who come forward with solutions are attacked by the special interests in Washington. Propose raising the retirement age by just two years over a 50-year time period and they accuse you of forcing seniors to eat cat food. Ask high-earning workers to pay payroll taxes on a small amount of their income above the $110,100 cap and you are accused of proposing job-killing tax increases. In our combined 48 years in the United States Congress, never did we hear more hyperbole than when we proposed a permanent fix to Social Security.

The goals of Social Security reform are pretty simple – find a way to gradually bring benefits and taxes in line while protecting and strengthening the benefits of those who rely on the program most and rewarding work and savings where possible. And the options are very well known. We can change the retirement age, improve the way we measure inflation, slow the growth of initial benefits for new and higher-earning seniors, raise the payroll tax rate, increase the income subject to the payroll tax, and/or make other modest tax and benefit changes.

Reps. Kolbe and Stenholm are not alone in their view. The Trustees themselves said in their recent report that "[l]awmakers should address the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare as soon as possible." The sooner that changes are made, the more gradual they can be and the more time future retirees will have to plan for them. Congress cannot delay getting these programs' finances in order.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.