Bernard Wasow was making light of the disappearance of a favorite
topic of his work, Social Security. "It has sunk out of sight," says
the senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank.
Well, not quite. Last week the American Academy of Actuaries
issued a rare "public interest" statement advocating raising Social
Security's age when an eligible retiree receives full pension
benefits another two years to 69. (A 1983 law boosted the age
gradually from 65 to 67.)
"Holding the retirement age constant is a certain prescription
for future financial problems," the 16,000-member academy stated.
"Raising it to reflect increasing longevity would contribute to
solving those problems."
Such a change would be equivalent to about a 14 percent average
cut in Social Security retirement benefits.
Since 1 in 4 American families receive some form of Social
Security benefit and since the two presumed presidential candidates
differ sharply on their reform proposals for the nation's most
popular safety net, the issue will likely be in the news again
before the fall election.
Certainly the Democrats hope it will. They are trying to paint
Republican presidential candidate John McCain as seeking the same
failed goal as President Bush, the partial privatization of Social
Security for younger workers.
Social Security popped up last month when Senator McCain said
during a town hall meeting in Denver: "Americans have got to
understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes
paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's
an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."
Democrats and liberals leaped on this remark. They noted that
Social Security benefits have always been financed by the working
generation, that indeed this money transfer accounts for one-fifth
of the entire federal budget.
It remains something of a mystery what changes in Social Security
McCain would advocate if he wins the election. He promises not to
raise the Social Security payroll tax, but then says everything is
on the table. McCain's official campaign website (johnmccain.com)
lists 16 topics as "issues" and deals with them in some detail. But
not Social Security.
Barack Obama's website (barackobama.com) devotes almost three
pages to Social Security. It notes his opposition to both hiking the
retirement age "for hardworking seniors" and to privatizing Social
Security. Senator Obama's plan calls for "shoring up" the program by
applying the 6.2 percent payroll tax to income above $250,000 a
year. This year, the cap subject to the tax stands at $102,000
(higher than the $97,500 cited on his website). …