President Biden’s budget chief on Wednesday struggled to explain the lack of a plan to save Social Security as pressure mounts on the White House to do something about America’s endangered retirement system.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young was pressed at a Senate hearing about the White House’s failure to offer a Social Security rescue plan in the $6.8 trillion budget Mr. Biden submitted to Congress last week.
“Why does the president’s budget not lay out how you would protect Social Security,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican. “We have a problem with Social Security. We need to address it. You agree we have a problem with Social Security?”
Ms. Young responded by accusing Republican lawmakers of wanting to cut the popular entitlement.
“This president believes the biggest threat to Social Security is those who want to cut it,” she said. “His budget says no.”
The Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate is that Social Security will be unable to pay full retirement and survivor benefits beginning in 2032. The program faces a shortfall as the U.S. population ages and birth rates remain low. If Washington does nothing, Social Security benefits will automatically be slashed by 20% — resulting in an estimated $12,000 to $17,000 benefit cut for a retired couple.
Mr. Biden’s budget proposed billions in new spending on new and existing federal programs. To pay for the surge, he wants $5.5 trillion in tax hikes.
Missing from the budget were taxes or spending increases to help Social Security remain solvent.
“Americans want to see President Biden’s plan to address Social Security. Obama, Bush, and Clinton each had a serious plan,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican. “We need to protect benefits for those who have paid into the system their entire lives, not use the program as a political weapon. The longer we wait to address Social Security insolvency, the larger and more expensive the solution becomes.”
Mr. Cassidy, a physician, is leading a bipartisan group of senators who are crafting legislation to address Social Security’s funding problem. They are weighing options such as raising the retirement age, refiguring annual cost of living adjustments for benefits and broadening the way Social Security is financed.
While ignoring Social Security, Mr. Biden’s budget proposed measures to extend the solvency of Medicare until 2050. Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund, which covers inpatient hospital stays for individuals over 65 years old, is slated to run out of money by 2028.
Mr. Biden said the program can be saved by raising the Medicare surtax from 3.8% to 5% for individuals making more than $400,000 annually.
“Let’s ask the wealthiest to pay just a little bit more of their fair share, to strengthen Medicare for everyone over the long term,” the president said when he rolled out his budget.
Republicans question why Mr. Biden can give specifics about fixing Medicare but not Social Security.
“Where is the plan?” said Mr. Romney, who is floating the idea for a “super congressional committee” to come up with a way to save the program.
White House officials insist that releasing a proposal would be a waste of time because Republicans, they say, want to cut Social Security benefits.
Democrats for years have accused Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare. As of late, they base the claim on a proposal last year by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that would have required all federal programs to be renewed every five years or risk expiration.
The Scott plan was dismissed as unrealistic by GOP lawmakers from the outset. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pledged to marshal opposition against the proposal if it ever got a vote in Congress.
Mr. Scott accused the White House of mischaracterizing his proposal, saying the sunset provision was never meant to touch Social Security or Medicare. The senator has since updated his plan to clarify that point.
Republican leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, also took Social Security and Medicare off the table in the current fight over cutting spending to trim runaway federal deficits and debt.