On Aug. 14, 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. FDR is rightly credited with leading the United States out of the Depression and re-framing the relationship between government and society. It is hard to imagine what modern life would be like without The New Deal.
By the time I made my first payroll contribution to Social Security in 1968, the program was stable. One hoped to be able to earn a pension or save money for retirement but I didn’t know how that would unfold during my work life. The job I held as a stock boy in the drug department of an early big box store wasn’t intended to pay for the retirement of a 16-year old entering the work force. I knew then Social Security would be there for me when I retired, no matter the financial outcome of a lifetime of work. This freed me to do other things, like being a teenager.
As I wrote in 2017, the Social Security Administration is currently doing fine. It follows a plan that begins to deplete the trust fund in 2034. In the current Trustees Report, that date holds true. The problem is longer term.
Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing. Costs of both programs will grow faster than gross domestic product (GDP) through the mid-2030s primarily due to the rapid aging of the U.S. population. Medicare costs will continue to grow faster than GDP through the late 2070s due to projected increases in the volume and intensity of services provided.
A summary of the 2022 Annual Reports from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, Social Security Administration website.
The Republican plan to address this can be found in U.S. Senator Rick Scott’s plan to rescue America, in this sentence, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
When asked about sunsetting Social Security and Medicare, Senator Scott said, “No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security, but what we’re doing is we don’t even talk about it. Medicare goes bankrupt in four years. Social Security goes bankrupt in 12 years. I think we ought to figure out how we preserve those programs.”
The fact is Democrats are talking about it and have introduced appropriate legislation to address the long-term problems presented by the Trustees. For Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, fixing the program is straight forward, “As Republicans try to phase out Social Security and raise taxes on more than 70 million hardworking Americans, I’m working with Senator Sanders to expand Social Security and extend its solvency by making the wealthy pay their fair share, so everyone can retire with dignity.” Warren and Sanders introduced The Social Security Expansion Act in the U.S. Senate.
The weasel-words of Senator Scott are evident. Rather than offer solutions to long-term problems, he speaks vaguely about the people he knows and what they believe. The only purpose this serves is to raise doubts about choices pensioners like me made over the last 54 years. It is a scare tactic from Republicans’ long list of them.
As much as I’d like to see Democrats and Republicans engage together in solving the long-term issues with Social Security and Medicare, I don’t think that’s possible in today’s divided Congress. As President Joe Biden has demonstrated with a series of recently passed legislation, finding common ground and passing laws is possible even in the toxic political climate of Washington, D.C. We need to do more of it.
Pensioners and other senior citizens vote, so I’m confident Social Security will be addressed at the ballot box. Just give us the facts, without your political spin, and we can make a good decision. Today we appear to be in the spin cycle.
Sorting the facts from bogus assertions is an ongoing issue. Democrats have a good story to tell about expanding Social Security. We need to bring Republicans in, if we can, and solve the long-term problems. If we can’t bring them in, we must solve them on our own.