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Reform Social Security now? Demographics of electorate say yes.

Republicans and Democrats seem to be talking past each other on Social Security. Republicans are unwilling to consider tax increases, and Democrats don't want to cut benefits.

By Staff writer / May 14, 2011

Commisioner of Social Security Michael Astrue speaks alongside Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on Friday May 13, as the Social Security Board of Trustees announces that the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust funds will be exhausted by 2036, one year earlier than projected last year.

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Social Security is in bad shape financially, and federal efforts to reform the program seem to be on a slow track – or no track at all.

Those two facts have emerged recently in separate quarters.

On Thursday, the Social Security Trustees released their latest annual report on the program's long-term outlook. They said that, unless changes are made, the program's trust fund appears likely to run dry in 2036 – a year earlier than was projected last year.

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After that, tax revenue for the program would allow beneficiaries to receive just 77 cents for each dollar of promised benefits.

Even as the warning was given, however, Republicans and Democrats seem to be talking past each other on the issue. Republicans are largely unwilling to consider tax increases, and many Democrats nearly as adamant about steps that could be construed as cutting benefits.

Social Security looks like an issue that may be side-stepped in tense bipartisan talks over the federal budget and deficits.

That isn't a recipe for disaster. Annual shortfalls in the program aren't expected to exceed 0.5 percent of America's annual gross domestic product (GDP) before 2020, for example.

But some independent finance experts say delay is not a good thing, either.

"If there is one central message among all of the findings from this year’s Trustees report, it is that the time for Social Security reform is now," the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, headed by Maya MacGuineas, wrote in a report Friday.

"With each year’s updated projections we learn that we have less and less time to implement gradual changes," the report said. "Whether for the sake of the budget or for all current and future beneficiaries ... lawmakers must implement changes."

The sooner action is taken to shore up the program, the easier it will be to fix, fiscal specialists say. That's because of the aging profile of the nation, with longer life expectancies and a wave of baby boomer retirements.

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