Republicans Need to Get Serious About Social Security



We’ve reached the point in the midterm election campaign where Democrats insist Republicans are itching to destroy Social Security. The usual gamble is to accept stray comments from one or two Republicans and pretend they represent a secret and sinister plan.

In October 2018, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell noted that “there is a bipartisan reluctance to address changes in rights.” His Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, said he “showed who the Republican Party really is.” Schumer even got some reporters to buy the spin that McConnell had said “the GOP will push for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security” if it retains control of the Senate.

In the election a few weeks later, Republicans expanded their control of the Senate. They have not moved to scrap any of those programs.

Republicans have no intention of undermining Social Security. They don’t even have a plan to fix it. That’s a shame, as the benefits still outweigh the program’s revenue. Andrew Biggs, a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute and a former commissioner of the program, calculates that the monthly benefits for an American retiring today, even adjusted for inflation, are about a third higher than for those who 20 years ago. retired.

If we want benefits to continue to grow as expected, we need to implement broad tax hikes. But most people would rather keep their taxes low and save the money themselves. For that to work, we need to moderate the growth of benefits so that they keep pace with inflation, but don’t rise much more.

Ideally, we would simultaneously set a minimum benefit sufficient to keep all seniors out of poverty. The current program, somewhat astonishing considering how much it spends, does not offer this protection.

Republicans are not talking about such reforms. Instead, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who is running for reelection, has said Social Security should become a “discretionary” program funded by the government in each year’s budget. Florida Senator Rick Scott has proposed that all government programs, presumably but not explicitly including Social Security, be renewed every five years. Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters said during the primaries, “Maybe we should privatize Social Security. Private retirement accounts, get the government out.”

These comments form the basis of the current democratic scare campaign. But none of these ideas are going anywhere. McConnell specifically rejected Scott’s. And Masters has denied his own: “I don’t want to privatize Social Security,” he said after winning the primary.

What these proposals show is not that the program is in political jeopardy. It’s that the taboo on questioning the program has discouraged serious thinking about how to reform it.

Masters’ first thought echoed a Republican argument from nearly 20 years ago. The George W. Bush administration wanted younger workers to have the option to invest some of their Social Security contributions in personal accounts.

It was a highly controversial proposal that failed to pass a Republican Congress. But then it made more sense than now. At the time, the program’s payroll taxes brought in enough revenue to cover retirees’ checks while also seeding the new accounts. The surplus raised the possibility that we could move to a new system even before the retirement of the baby boomers.

None of this is true now. More than 30 million boomers have already retired and the surplus has turned into a deficit. So the premise of the Bush plan is no longer true. Masters brought it up anyway because Republicans haven’t thought about how to restore Social Security since that plan failed.

The other Republican ideas aren’t much better thought out. If we required a vote every five years to renew Social Security, it would almost certainly become a ritual. Submitting the program to the annual budget process could theoretically reduce benefits growth over time, but it could also lead to a bidding war that magnifies that growth.

If Congress and the president had the will to moderate benefit growth to stay in line with revenue, they could simply pass a change to the benefit formula. That approach, unlike tinkering with benefits every year, would make retirement income more predictable for beneficiaries.

Democrats can’t really be blamed for taking the gaps Republicans have given them. But seniors, and those who expect to retire in the next few years, needn’t worry about the program being jeopardized by Republicans. It is younger people who should be concerned that neither side wants to control the spending of the program.

More from writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

• What Bill Clinton understood about a big administration that Biden doesn’t: Ramesh Ponnuru

• Biden Shouldn’t Ignore Republicans Over Iran Nuclear Deal: Bobby Ghosh

• Biden is not FDR. He’s Not Even Obama: Ramesh Ponnuru

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

More stories like this are available at

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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