Members of Congress in both parties could be approaching a consensus on
potential changes to Social Security, the cherished but financially
troubled public retirement program. With the deficit rising and Social Security getting more expensive, everyone is looking for ways to tighten
to federal belt. It's just talk at this point, but the talk is of
significant changes. Here's what's being discussed and what it would
- Bipartisan Interest in Raising Retirement Age
Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler reports, "Is
there a new, bipartisan consensus forming on Capitol Hill about whether
(and how) to scale back Social Security benefits? A surprising number of
signs point to 'yes' -- and that has many progressives looking ahead a
few months to what they believe could become a serious fight. Several of
the most powerful members of the House -- Republicans and Democrats --
have recently voiced real support for the idea of raising the retirement
age for people middle-aged and younger as part of a larger plan to
reduce long-term deficits, inching closer to what not too long ago was
the third rail of American politics."
- Why This Is a 'Terrible
Idea' Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias explains,
"This is, I think, a pretty terrible idea. As I've said before, if
we're going to cut spending on retirement programs then it makes much
more sense to reduce Medicare outlays by $1 than to reduce Social
Security benefits by $1. ... if you want to cut Social Security benefits
you should just cut Social Security benefits. Reducing outlays
via the mechanism of a higher retirement age is going to mean that the
incidence of the cuts falls most heavily on people with physically
taxing--or simply boring and annoying--jobs. It's one of the most
regressive possible ways of trimming spending."
- Pass Job
Stimulus Bills Instead Daily Kos's Joan McCarter suggests,
"Here's something our Members of Congress should be occupying their
noggins with: the middle-aged and older are the largest group of the
long-term unemployed. A little job creation could potentially go a long
way here. Maybe if they actually were working, and contributing into the
system by paying both income and Social Security taxes, our economic
picture would be a little less bleak. Telling these people now--who want
to be working--that they'll have an extra 15 years to be stigmatized by
being unemployed is just cruel."
- Low Retirement Age Is
Outdated The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus recounts a
discussion with AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. "Ask Trumka about whether
the eligibility age for Social Security, now 62 for partial benefits,
should be raised. This former coal miner -- and son and grandson of coal
miners -- erupts. His father worked 44 years in the mines, suffering
from black lung, 'and if you had said to my dad, You have to work until
you're 63, that would have been a death sentence.' Fair enough. Some
people may need special protection. But, an editor asks, gesturing
around the gleaming conference table at the middle-aged assembly, what
about those who do not work in such punishing occupations and for whom
the current system would provide two, maybe three, decades of benefits?
'What's wrong with that?' Trumka asks indignantly. 'The rest of the
world does that!' Yes, and how are things going in Greece?"
Are Better Ways to Save Money The New Republic's Jonathan Chait sighs, "The
liberals are correct, as I said, that you don't have to cut
Social Security benefits. You could reduce the deficit by raising taxes
and cutting spending on programs that serve no liberal benefit, like
farm subsidies and wasteful defense programs. The problem is, there's no
remotely plausible scenario where Democrats could enact a program like
that. The public hates raising taxes, and wasteful tax loopholes and
programs have powerful constituencies."
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