Friday, April 27, 2012

Saving Social Security

This week's annual Social Security trustee report said the program would be unable to pay full benefits in the year 2033, three years earlier than projected in the same report last year.  Even so, if nothing was done, Social Security could pay its full benefits for 21 more years and then still be able to pay 75 percent of those benefits after that. So, we're talking about heading off a 25 percent spending shortfall more than two decades away.

Still, 20 years is not far off in terms of gradually implementing changes that would provide for the program's longer-term needs while not forcing jarring changes on people already retired or within 10 years of retiring. The program's smaller disability insurance component is only four years from insolvency.

Lastly, the options for dealing with Social Security's financial needs have been studied to death and then some. There are few surprises here. And there aren't serious ideological issues either, at least not by comparison with the intractable tax-and-spend tug of war that has paralyzed Congress of late. But compromises would be needed.

The three most prominently advanced reforms are to reduce the size of the annual cost of living adjustment, raise the retirement age, and lift the ceiling on earnings subject to payroll taxes. It's now at $110,100 a year, but because high earners have fared so well in recent years, the program taxes a smaller percentage of the nation's wage income than it used to.

The Simpson-Bowles deficit restructuring plan of late 2010 included these and other suggested Social Security reforms. They provide a well-researched starting point for changing the program. The Social Security components of that plan could be peeled off, introduced separately, and subjected to extensive House and Senate hearings.

If Congress and the White House were serious, the program could be put on solid financial ground again well before the elections. And because Social Security has historically been separate from the rest of the federal budget, its needs could be addressed without opening up that much bigger can of worms.

**US News-Money

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