is perhaps the most treasured federal government benefit,
. But, Republicans in Congress are out of touch with their constituents, both their desires and their needs. Republican leaders want to transform Social Security in ways that would both cut benefits and put benefits at risk. Here are five ways Republican leaders would weaken Social Security benefits if they could and voters'* reactions.
- Republican leaders want to privatize Social Security: Privatizing Social Security means investing Social Security funds in the stock market. So, if the stock market were to crash or simply fall significantly, people would see cuts to their benefits. People could no longer rely on a guaranteed monthly benefit from one year to the next. Not surprisingly, a recent Public Policy Polling poll shows that almost seven out of ten voters support keeping Social Security as a guaranteed benefit, one that won't vary with the ups and downs of the stock market, a benefit that cannot be outlived. Only two in 10 support privatizing Social Security and making it subject it the whims of the stock market.
- Republican leaders want to reduce Social Security benefit amounts, not keep them as they are, let alone expand them: Most Republican leaders argue that the way to "save" Social Security is to weaken it by cutting benefits. Essentially, they do not want to lift the cap on Social Security contributions or otherwise generate more revenue for Social Security by requiring the wealthiest to pay more - indeed, pay what most Americans believe would be their fair share. But, those Republican leaders are not speaking for the overwhelming share of their constituents. Voters see no reason to cut Social Security benefits, unlike their Republican representatives in Congress. Almost nine out of ten voters, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, oppose cuts in benefits. Only one in twenty voters, five percent, support benefit cuts.
- Republican leaders want to increase the Social Security retirement age further: One indirect way Republicans propose cutting Social Security benefits is by requiring people to wait longer before they can claim the benefits they have earned. Already, the full Social Security retirement age is 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954. And, it is going up to 67. Raising the retirement age reduces benefits for everyone in retirement. It particularly hurts people with lower incomes, who are often forced to retire early because of job-related injuries or conditions. Indeed, it denies them equitable access to benefits. Not only does taking benefits at age 62 mean reducing your monthly check by 25 percent (30 percent, once the full retirement age is 67), but people forced to claim benefits early tend to be blue-collar workers and people without college educations, people in poorer health, with shorter life expectancies than others. More than six out of ten voters, 62 percent, oppose an increase in the Social Security retirement age. Fewer than three out of ten, 28 percent, support it.
- Republican leaders want to reduce Social Security benefit adjustments for inflation. Republicans in Congress support a "chained CPI,"essentially a method for calculating a cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits that would keep them from increasing in pace with inflation. As it is, benefits do not increase in pace with the increases in overall expenses for older adults because they don't appropriately reflect the amount older adults spend on health care. Older adults spend far more on health care than younger adults, and health care costs are rising far faster than other household expenses. For this reason, it's likely that Social Security checks will not increase in 2017. More than six out of ten voters, 62 percent, oppose this change. Only 14 percent of voters support it.
- Republican leaders want to "means test" Social Security benefits: Republicans argue that wealthier Americans should not receive Social Security benefits and that the program should be reserved for people without adequate means or "means-tested." This proposal fails to recognize that Social Security is not a welfare program but rather insurance. As with any insurance, people who receive benefits are those who experience the insured event - in the case of Social Security, disability, death, or retirement -- regardless of need. Moreover, means-testing benefits is likely to hurt people with higher incomes but high health care costs. And it will definitely increase Social Security's administrative costs. Currently, Social Security is the most efficient insurance around, spending less than a penny of every dollar on administration. The remaining 99 cents is paid in benefits. That would change, if Social Security were means-tested. It would discourage savings, and have many other terrible consequences. It is a bad idea that most Americans reject.
If Republican leaders are concerned about giving wealthy Americans too many benefits, they would propose doing away with the $5,450,000 estate tax exemption. Or, they would propose means-testing 401(K) benefits, the million-dollar tax deduction on people's homes, or the charitable tax deduction, programs that benefit the wealthy. If Republican leaders think that wealthy Americans are getting too good a deal from Social Security, they should require that they pay more for those benefits -- their fair share. What they should not do is take away their or anyone else's benefits. Those are benefits that have been earned.
Given that the nation is facing a retirement security crisis and that the American people do not want to see benefits cut, and indeed, believe they are too modest, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform, in sharp contrast to Republican policymakers, focuses on
, while requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share.
*Voter views are based on a recent
, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada.