- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that Congress has a responsibility to tackle entitlement reform sooner rather than later, making him the latest of the likely 2016 Republican presidential contenders to say it is time for the party to address the thorny subject head-on.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, the Florida Republican said he supports gradually raising the Social Security retirement age, which now sits at 67, for future beneficiaries, and embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s push to transition Medicare into a “premium-support” plan, where seniors would be given a voucher to buy insurance on the private market.

“I propose we transition to a premium-support system, which would give seniors a generous but fixed amount of money with which to purchase health insurance from either Medicare or a private provider,” Mr. Rubio said. “The choice would be theirs to make.”

He said his tweak to Social Security eligibility would not apply to those 55 and older.

Several of the Republicans pondering 2016 White House runs have urged the party to take the lead on entitlement reform — arguably none more so than Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, whom Mr. Rubio credited with spearheading reform efforts on Capitol Hill.

“My friend Paul Ryan is a leader when it comes to Medicare reform,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, two more likely contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, also have endorsed raising the retirement age for Social Security.

Democrats, meanwhile, panned Mr. Rubio’s speech, saying he was offering up the same ideas that 2012 GOP presidentail nominee Mitt Romney espoused.

Senator Rubio renewed the GOP’s commitment to ending Medicare as we know it, forcing future seniors to spend more out of pocket on medical care when they need it most,” said DNC spokesman Michael Czin. “In 2012, the Romney-Ryan ticket ran on that plan and it was soundly rejected by the voters. Senator Rubio’s plan is just the latest example of the Republican Party’s out of touch policies that benefit a few instead of extending opportunity for all.”

But in his address, Mr. Rubio launched a pre-emptive strike against his critics, warning the longer lawmakers put off changing the programs, the harder they will be to save.

“I have no doubt that my suggestions today will be used against me, to try and convince seniors that I would change the benefits they worked so hard for and paid into all those years,” Mr. Rubio said. “It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had such attacks hurled in my direction. So let me address that here and now.”

“First, my mother depends on Medicare and Social Security. I will never support anything that would hurt my mother or retirees like her,” he said. “And second, anyone who is in favor of doing nothing about Social Security and Medicare is in favor of bankrupting Social Security and Medicare.”

Mr. Rubio also said that payroll taxes, which help fund Social Security, should be eliminated for working adults who have reached the retirement age and that Social Security benefits should be means-tested. Mr. Rubio also called for expanded access to the personal retirement accounts that are available to members of Congress and federal employees to those who have employers that don’t offer retirement plans.

He said members of Congress have a responsibility to save the entitlements, which have “allowed my mother and father — and so many millions like them — to retire with dignity and live out the final years of their American Dream with comfort and peace of mind.”

“If ever there was an issue worthy of this solidarity, preserving a secure retirement for 21st century seniors is that issue,” Mr. Rubio said. “And should we fail to address it, history will point its finger at all who stood aside or stood in the way.”

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