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Bipartisan group of senators working on plan to overhaul Social Security

By Sarah May on
 March 2, 2023

Entering what can only be described as a political minefield, a bipartisan cadre of senators is reportedly collaborating on potential changes to Social Security intended to extend the program's solvency amid warnings from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about its future sustainability, according to The Hill.

Though few concrete details have emerged from the discussions, reporting has trickled out that suggests a retirement age increase is among the possible adjustments to the massive system of entitlements.

Bipartisan talks continue

According to the Washington Examiner, Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are among the legislators who are most heavily involved in the talks.

Spokespeople for the lawmakers released a statement saying, “This is an example of two leaders trying to find a solution to a clear and foreseeable danger.”

“Although the final framework is still taking shape, there are not cuts for Americans currently receiving Social Security benefits in our plan. Indeed, many will receive additional benefits,” the statement added.

The Examiner noted that deliberations on a final plan have been ongoing for almost two years but may have taken on a renewed sense of urgency last month when the CBO issued a report warning that the Social Security trust fund ran the risk of going insolvent by 2023 unless alterations to current policies are made.

Significant changes mulled

Reports have suggested that one of the more noteworthy changes to Social Security currently under consideration is a raise in the retirement age to 70, an upward adjustment from the current age of 67 for those born later than 1960.

While Americans are currently able to take benefits at the earlier age of 62, they are not eligible to receive full benefits until the age of 67, with those who hold off until age 70 receiving even higher levels of benefits.

It has also been reported that the lawmakers involved in the talks are contemplating a change to the Social Security benefits calculation formula which would move away from a system that determines disbursements based on average earnings to become one in which disbursements are based on how many years a retiree made payments into the Social Security system.

Increases to the taxable wage cap and payroll tax rate are also said to be on the table, according to The Hill.

Balancing act required

Given the highly politicized nature of Social Security and the ease with which opposing parties use the entitlement as a cudgel against the other, the legislature's ability to secure bipartisan consensus on possible changes remains an open question.

Even so, optimism has broken through in some unexpected places, with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) saying, according to The Hill, “All of the ideas on the table are the ones you would expect, but the thing that I like about these discussions is that there's ideas on the table that nobody has talked about until now, but that have a track record of working, and that's what I think is interesting.”

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) has expressed support for some of the proposals said to be under discussion, though she noted, “The only way that any reforms to Social Security are going to work out is if they're 100 percent bipartisan. If there's even one person out of balance, it won't work.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), for his part, believes it is possible that Americans could get a look at the product of the lawmakers' extended deliberations relatively soon, saying, “I think it will likely be introduced this year. I'm not sure it'll pass this year, but obviously, it's a huge topic with enormous interest, and the fact that we have both Medicare and Social Security that are slated to become insolvent within a decade suggests that we need to make sure to save them.”

“Easy third rail”

As evidence of the enthusiasm with which all too many politicians weaponize entitlement programs, President Joe Biden last month accused Republicans of planning to cut Social Security and Medicare during his State of the Union address, as the Daily Mail noted, pointing to Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott's prior proposal to “sunset” all federal legislation every five years.

Though Scott subsequently disclaimed the notion that he intended to include Social Security and Medicare in that concept, Biden's talking point still proved difficult to shake.

Negotiation group member Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said that one of the most difficult aspects of talks on the subject has been keeping “presidential politics out of it.”

“It's a really easy third rail to use on both sides of the aisle, if you want to go after an opponent,” Rounds added, but given that both parties appear to acknowledge – at least to some degree – that the Social Security program's continued viability is a veritable ticking time bomb, solutions are needed and needed fast.