Stalling Social Security reform
If nothing changes, Social Security will be unable to meet its obligations by 2037 and would have to cut benefits by 22 percent for all current and future beneficiaries, according to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform appointed by President Obama.
Connecticut's freshman senator, Richard Blumenthal, sees that date and that problem as remote. In fact the senator is proposing legislation that would make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to improve the benefit adjustments necessary to secure its long-term viability.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said the Democratic senator, repeating the oft-used phrase.
It is broke, senator.
A worker now in her mid-50s, who has laid out plans for her retirement that includes promised Social Security benefits, will turn 80 in 2037. Perhaps the date is not so remote.
The country's aging baby boom generation will put a strain on Social Security. In 1950, there were 16 workers paying into the system for every one retiree, now that ratio is 3-to-1 and shrinking. When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, the average American lived to age 64. Life expectancy is now 78 years. People are collecting retirement benefits far longer.
"Unless we act, these immense demographic changes will bring the Social Security program to its knees," said the president's commission.
The time to fix it is now. Yet Connecticut's junior center wants to make that job more difficult.
Sen. Blumenthal joined Sen. Barry Sanders, an independent from Vermont, to introduce legislation requiring a two-thirds Senate vote to approve any proposal aimed at cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, adding a means test or channeling Social Security investments to retirement accounts.
A solution will almost certainly include a gradual increase in the retirement age, with exceptions for tougher physical jobs. A means test may be necessary for those so well off they do not need Social Security.
The senator would not require a two-thirds vote for a solution he favors - lifting the Social Security payroll tax cap (it now applies only to the first $106,800 in wages).
Fixing Social Security will require give and take, with Republicans and Democrats both accepting things they don't like. Adding an arbitrary two-thirds vote on only part of the equation is a mistake.
Sen. Blumenthal notes that two-thirds is only a few more votes than needed to break a filibuster. Yet the senator calls for filibuster reform because it's obstructionist.
We agree with Sen. Blumenthal that Social Security is a success story and understand his desire to protect benefits. In the long term, however, his strategy would endanger the program.