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Both parties mull raising retirement age
House leaders get frank about Social Security cost
In a rare departure from this year’s intense political posturing over the soaring budget deficit, House leaders of both parties recently signaled that they are prepared to tackle a leading long-term liability — Social Security — by raising the retirement age.
Politicians often talk in generalities about cutting the deficit, but discussing specifics about how Congress may curb the growth of the biggest and most popular programs such as Social Security and defense is controversial and usually taboo in an election year.
But lessons learned from the debt crisis in Europe and worries that the U.S. could soon confront its own debt crisis, with annual deficits projected at about $1 trillion for years to come, may have prompted the unusually frank comments by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Speaking in unrelated forums, both leaders stressed that with people living longer and enjoying better health in their senior years, the nation simply can’t afford any longer to be paying out benefits for as long as 30 years after retirement.
Besides raising the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 70 for people now 50 or younger, Mr. Boehner suggested curbing benefit growth by tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than growth in wages, and providing benefits only to those who need them.
“If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you’re retired, why are we paying you at a time when we’re broke?” he said. “We just need to be honest with people.”
Mr. Hoyer also said it was time to be honest with the public that the sheer size of the deficits and public debt means any serious effort to cut them back to manageable levels will require cuts and reforms in all major programs — including defense and Social Security — as well as tax increases.
“We could and should consider a higher retirement age, or one pegged to life span,” he said in a speech last month before the Third Way think tank. Like Mr. Boehner, he suggested making Social Security and Medicare more “progressive,” that is, providing benefits primarily to low-income people who need them the most.
“I fear that if we cant decide what we can afford to do without today, well be forced to make much more draconian cuts in the years to come,” he said.
The comments reveal that, beneath the heated rhetoric as each party seeks to gain a political advantage by blaming the other for surging deficits, congressional leaders appear to be laying the groundwork for negotiations on a solution — possibly as early as this fall.
A deficit commission appointed by President Obama is due to present its findings on how to reform major programs like Social Security and defense in November, and it is widely expected to endorse measures like raising the retirement age and others mentioned by the leaders.
Mr. Obama refused to rule out charging the commission with finding deficit solutions, including a value-added tax that would be the first-ever broad national tax on consumption.
One clue that both parties are getting serious about addressing the deficit problem is neither the White House nor congressional leaders of either party chose to single out for attack the others’ unusually frank discussion on Social Security.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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