US Repub­li­cans want to over­haul So­cial Se­cu­rity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A key Repub­li­can law­maker wants to over­haul So­cial Se­cu­rity, the decades-old pro­gram that pro­vides ben­e­fits to some 60 mil­lion re­tirees and dis­abled, with a plan to grad­u­ally in­crease the re­tire­ment age and slow the growth of ben­e­fits for higher-in­come work­ers. Rep Sam John­son of Texas, the chair­man of the House Ways and Means sub­com­mit­tee on So­cial Se­cu­rity, in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion just be­fore the end of the con­gres­sional ses­sion last week that he said would “per­ma­nently save” the pro­gram. He said the bill would in­crease ben­e­fits for lower-in­come work­ers.

About 168 mil­lion peo­ple work and pay taxes to­ward the in­evitable monthly So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits. About 42 mil­lion of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries are re­tirees and their fam­i­lies. The trustees who over­see So­cial Se­cu­rity say it has enough money to pay full ben­e­fits un­til 2034, and then So­cial Se­cu­rity will col­lect only enough taxes to pay 79 per­cent of ben­e­fits. Un­less Congress acts, mil­lions of peo­ple on fixed in­comes would get an au­to­matic 21 per­cent cut in ben­e­fits. “Amer­i­cans want, need, and de­serve for us to fi­nally come up with a so­lu­tion to sav­ing this im­por­tant pro­gram,” John­son said. Next year, with Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans plan to take a wreck­ing ball to the eight years of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s poli­cies, from the health care law to environmental reg­u­la­tions. Medi­care, a pro­gram cre­ated un­der an­other Demo­crat, Lyn­don B. John­son, is in the crosshairs of Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Trump’s pick for Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­re­tary, Rep Tom Price.

Ryan and Price fa­vor pri­va­tiz­ing the pro­gram, ar­gu­ing that a voucher-sys­tem is nec­es­sary to en­sure Medi­care’s long-term sol­vency. Con­ser­va­tives like John­son, who have pushed their pri­or­i­ties for years un­der di­vided gov­ern­ment, see an op­por­tu­nity to tackle So­cial Se­cu­rity next year. John­son’s bill is de­signed to slow the growth of So­cial Se­cu­rity costs while boost­ing some min­i­mum ben­e­fits for those who earned lower wages over longer ca­reers. It would also limit the size of ben­e­fits for spouses and chil­dren of high-in­come earn­ers, among other changes in how the ben­e­fits are cal­cu­lated.

The re­tire­ment age would be grad­u­ally in­creased to 69, start­ing with those who were born in 1968 and would likely re­tire in the mid-2030s. Cur­rently, in­di­vid­u­als can re­ceive ben­e­fits as early as age 62. The bill’s sum­mary says the new re­tire­ment age would bet­ter re­flect Amer­i­cans’ longer life ex­pectancy. But it’s un­clear if his pro­posal - or any oth­ers to re­vise So­cial Se­cu­rity - will move. Trump, who en­joyed strong sup­port from work­ing-class Amer­i­cans, promised dur­ing the cam­paign not to cut So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care. Ryan told CBS’ “60 Min­utes” ear­lier this month that he has no plans to change So­cial Se­cu­rity.

The is­sue has long been un­pop­u­lar on Capi­tol Hill, where even some GOP law­mak­ers are ner­vous about chang­ing a pro­gram seniors rely on so heav­ily. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush pro­posed a par­tial pri­va­ti­za­tion of the pro­gram in his sec­ond term, but the ef­fort failed in a Repub­li­can-led Congress and may have con­trib­uted to his party’s sweep­ing losses in the 2006 midterm elec­tions. Nei­ther Ryan nor the Repub­li­can chair­man of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, Texas Rep Kevin Brady, would en­dorse John­son’s bill. Ash­Lee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said the bill “is one of many Repub­li­can ideas put for­ward to strengthen the pro­gram.” Lau­ren Aron­son, a spokeswoman for Brady, said he ap­pre­ci­ates John­son’s com­mit­ment to a thought­ful con­ver­sa­tion but also “sees the pro­posal as one of many ideas” to ad­dress the pro­gram’s chal­lenges. —AP

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