A Real Proposal to Strengthen Social Security

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. leave a news conference on Cap
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, after Congressional Democrats called for the Republican leadership in the House to cancel the recess and return to work. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It's become an article of faith among certain "serious" people in Washington that any agreement to rein in deficits must include cuts to Social Security. I couldn't disagree more strongly. After all, Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033, by law it is not allowed to add to the deficit or debt, and is not driving our long-term debt. So we need to ask ourselves, what's really going on here?

Unfortunately, it's clear to me that this is just one more misguided pretext for putting Social Security on the chopping block. In fact, if you look closely at the changes under discussion, you'll find that they all purport to "save" Social Security by slashing benefits. Here are a few examples of what these "serious" proposals would do:

  • Raise the retirement age so that hardworking Americans including nurses, cashiers, carpenters and mechanics have to work even longer before they can retire and claim their full benefits;

  • Base future cost of living adjustments (COLAs) on the so-called 'Chained-CPI,' which would reduce the annual COLAs and make it even harder for seniors to keep up with inflation;
  • Means-test benefits by changing the Social Security benefit formula to reduce benefits for middle class beneficiaries.
  • These ideas are nothing new. And it should come as no surprise that they have been put forward by many of the same people who attempted to privatize Social Security less than a decade ago. Quite simply, this is just one more excuse for opponents of Social Security to undermine the nation's most successful social program.

    Those of us who are honestly committed to strengthening Social Security have another approach. First, we will strongly resist any effort to cut Social Security as part of a "grand bargain" at the end of the year or early next year. Second, to demonstrate an approach that will actually strengthen Social Security, I have put forward legislation that would provide seniors with greater economic security in their retirement by increasing benefits.

    My proposal does so in three ways:

    • Changes the Social Security benefit formula to increase benefits by approximately $65 a month;
    • Ensures that annual COLAs better reflect the typical expenses faced by seniors;
    • Applies the payroll tax to every dollar of eligible earnings by removing the wage cap that unfairly protects higher earning individuals from paying payroll taxes at the same rate as middle class workers.

    Importantly, my legislation also extends the solvency of the Trust Fund beyond 2050, demonstrating that you can save Social Security in a way that doesn't undermine the retirement security of those who rely on the program.

    These are the kind of changes we should consider as part of any effort to reform Social Security. Regrettably, I don't hear those who want to put Social Security on the table as part of a debt reduction package calling for these types of reforms. On the contrary, their proposals would simply make it harder for Americans to enjoy their golden years.

    Social Security provides a modest benefit, on average $14,000 per year, to over 37 million retired Americans and their dependents. The long-term issue facing Social Security is certainly not that this benefit is too generous.

    I stand ready to work with any of my Senate colleagues to reduce our deficit and debt. But I am not willing to do so at the expense of the hardworking middle class families who rely on Social Security to retire with dignity.