In recent weeks, several of our social media commenters have challenged us to “NAME ONE REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL TO CUT SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE!” OK, how about: Senator Rick Scott’s proposal that Social Security and Medicare be subject to and up or down vote every five years? That could not only cut these programs, but potentially end Social Security and Medicare as we know them; Senator Ron Johnson’s proposal to change Social Security and Medicare from “mandatory” to “discretionary” spending programs – subjecting them to the volatility of annual budget negotiations; and the House Republican Study Committee’s 2022 blueprint, which would reduce Social Security COLAs and means test benefits.
But none of these plans would cut benefits as blatantly as GOP proposals to raise the Social Security full retirement age from 67 to 70. This would amount to a 23% lifetime benefit cut for some seniors. Why? Because when you claim Social Security before full retirement age, your monthly benefits are permanently reduced.
Conservative backers of this idea insist that life expectancy has increased and people are able to continue working and earning income well into their 60s, so no harm, no foul. Except that neither is really true. Life expectancy for many demographic groups has actually decreased in the past few years, especially for communities of color. Secondly, Americans in physically demanding jobs may not be able to continue working until age 70. They would have no choice but to claim benefits early and lose sorely-needed income.
The L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik drives home this point in a column aptly entitled, The Stupid and Dishonest Idea of Raising the Social Security Retirement Age is Back:
“As for whether it’s ‘easier’ to work into one’s 70s than it used to be, that may be true for authors of think tank papers in air conditioned offices, but not for the millions of Americans who spend their careers hauling, digging, driving and building…” – Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2/2/23
The proposal’s backers insist that something must be done to shore up Social Security’s finances before the projected 2035 insolvency date of the program’s trust fund – and raising the retirement age would save money. A key House Republican told the Washington Post‘s Tony Romm:
“We have no choice but to make hard decisions.” – Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK), chair of the House Republican Study Committee
For conservatives, those “hard decisions” always seem to demand that seniors bear the burden through benefit cuts, rather than by bringing more revenue into the program. Democrats have introduced legislation do increase revenue by adjusting the payroll wage cap — so that high-earners begin contributing their fair share to Social Security. That alone could extend the solvency of the trust fund for decades. (Later this month, millionaires will stop paying into Social Security for the rest of the calendar year.)
Not a single GOP member of Congress has signed onto legislation to adjust the payroll wage cap. Instead, key Republicans insist that “entitlements” (Social Security and Medicare) must be reformed.
“GOP lawmakers have been counseled by a wide array of right-leaning groups, including the Heritage Foundation, that the new majority should consider significant changes to entitlements as part of their commitment to cutting spending and balancing the budget.” – Washington Post, 1/24/23
Many congressional Republicans conflate seniors’ earned benefits with the federal debt issue, even though Social Security and Medicare Part A are completely self-funded by American workers and employers. They don’t contribute a penny to the debt. None other than Ronald Reagan declared in 1984, “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.”
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the number one driver of the debt is tax breaks. But Republicans ignore the $2 trillion that the Trump/GOP tax cuts added to the debt. Instead of calling for repeal of those tax cuts, the GOP wants to make them permanent. This is a dubious set of priorities at a time when the wealthy and profitable corporations are by and large thriving, while some seniors — racked by the pandemic and high inflation — are barely surviving.