- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BEDFORD, N.H. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday that limiting Social Security payments to wealthier Americans could help the nation confront its mounting national deficit.

Mr. Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender, told an audience in the early voting state of New Hampshire that annual increases in payments to wealthier Americans could be scaled back because, he said, wealthier Americans don’t rely on such cost-of-living adjustments.

“We have a mathematical problem. It’s eighth-grade math; it’s junior high math,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “We have to say: ‘Look, we have to get this fixed. We have to get it fixed soon.’”

In 2009, the system paid out $700 billion in benefits to more than 53 million people. But it faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years as the nation ages and fewer workers support more retirees.

Those currently receiving Social Security have not seen their payments increased during the past two years. Mr. Pawlenty said those who have adequate income should have their payments curbed, while others should have increases. Determining that scale is known as “means testing.”

“Look, means testing isn’t ideal, but amongst the choices — the suboptimal choices we have in front of us — means testing just the cost-of-living increases, not the whole program, is a reasonable step,” Mr. Pawlenty said.

“What that means is, in the future, if you are wealthy, your increase to Social Security will be smaller than if you’re middle income or lower middle income or poor.”

Mr. Pawlenty said drawing lines between classes is not ideal, but the nation faces a mathematical reality in what it can afford. He called the scaling “reasonable” but added it would not be enough to solve the entire national debt that now totals $1.4 trillion.

Mr. Pawlenty also said raising the retirement age is an option he’s willing to consider for younger workers entering Social Security programs.

“Your retirement age is going to be pegged to some reasonable correlation to life expectancy,” he said.

Mr. Pawlenty wrapped up a two-day visit to New Hampshire as part of a book tour for his new book, “Courage to Stand: An American Story.” He said he will decide whether he will seek the White House in the coming weeks.

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