It is almost certain that the two candidates for president of the United States will be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. So I recommend that over the next six months, you pay especially close attention to what each of them promises to do to keep Social Security solvent.
As it now stands, the Social Security system, as we know it, cannot last longer than 2034, after which it will not be able to pay promised benefits to recipients. Without a financially sound fix, the plan will then be able to pay only 75 percent of scheduled benefits.
Sixteen of the 17 Republican primary candidates, when asked how they would save Social Security from inevitable financial failure, recommended various options, including raising the full retirement age, eliminating the payroll tax for working seniors 65 and older, adopting measures that would ultimately lower cost-of-living adjustments, establishing private accounts for Social Security, and abolishing current limits on retirement earnings.
Only Donald Trump promised not make any changes to Social Security or take action to protect the system, thus assuring it will go bust.
By contrast, the three Democratic primary candidates agreed to generally increase the payroll tax cap of $118,500 and improve benefits to low-income seniors.
The only reason seniors automatically get their Social Security checks with regularity and surety is because GOP President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill agreed in 1983 to create legislation to protect the plan. They saved it from impending failure.
The weakness of the Reagan-O’Neill plan was that it assumed that Congress would be responsible over the following 33 years to tweak the plan as needed to keep it solvent.
Congress, stymied by tea party obstructionism and GOP leaders’ willingness to gamble with Social Security recipients’ welfare, has refused to enact legislation to assure organized and timely adjustments to guarantee promised payouts.
President George W. Bush would have privatized the system, only making matters far worse.
President Obama had no one like the affable Tip O’Neill leading the House of Representatives with whom to negotiate a deal. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has from Day One of Obama’s administration vowed intransigence on all major issues.
The Congressional Budget Office report “Social Security Policy Options, 2015” spells out myriad options that can protect Social Security’s financial health. I invite you to read it.
The upcoming presidential debates should include comprehensive and thoughtful discussions on this critical issue.
We don’t need to listen to Trump simply state that if he’s in charge, “It will be all taken care of. It will be beautiful — believe me!” He offers that sophomoric answer to every national problem.
So far, Trump has promised to leave the system alone and not apply needed adjustments to it. Yet every responsible student of the issue knows that is a surefire prescription for failure.
Trump’s anemic formula is: “Eliminate fraud, redirect foreign aid money to Social Security, and simply create greater economic growth.” Sounds good, but if 100 percent of America’s foreign aid (including to Israel) were pumped into Social Security’s coffers each year, there would still be a huge shortfall.
The total foreign aid bill for 2016 is $33 billion. The Social Security shortfall averages $77 billion a year and rises each year. The longer Congress dilly-dallies over the issue, the harder it will be to correct the shortfall.
No president, not even one who thinks he walks on water, can guarantee constantly robust economic growth any more than
casino huckster Sheldon Adelson, who backs Trump, can assure a win at one of his roulette tables.
A short term fix won’t be helpful. Only a thoughtful plan that will stretch to the 22nd century can succeed, with periodic adjustments mandated when required.
It must reflect the changing demographics of America in which a growing healthier aging population will need to be adequately cared for.
Saving Social Security requires an act of political will by wise leaders like Reagan and O’Neill, who willingly put aside ideology for the common good. I don’t foresee Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan ever working in close harmony to fill that bill.
Hillary Clinton learned how to work well with those on the opposite side of the aisle and gained their respect while in the Senate from 2001 to 2009. As secretary of state (America’s chief diplomat) from 2009 to 2013, she brought international leaders together in America’s best interests.
I would rank her chances of achieving a sound, long-term fix to Social Security excellent. What do you think?
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.