Social Security Reform Is Too Little, Too Late

Social Security and Medicare are two topics that make politicians uncomfortable. Both programs are insolvent; both are headed for collapse; Washington doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do about them. Except, that is, for Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who is, at least, talking about the problem.

Medicare and Social Security reform were once top policy items for officials in charge of the country’s fiscal health, but the growing political cost of even discussing entitlement reform has prompted politicians to drop the issue entirely.

 “You just open yourself up to potshots,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told Fox News Digital about the idea of pushing for entitlement reform. “Politically, it is a losing position.”

Cassidy is the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This year, he was also a leader in a bipartisan working group for a proposal to extend the life of Social Security – which projections say could be insolvent by 2033.

This is a situation that begs for a man of principle. Unfortunately, all we have is Congress. What is concerning is that both parties seem willing to ignore the issue.

“A huge shift came when President Trump promised instead of to fix Social Security and Medicare, not to fix them, not to touch them. And then the bulk of the Republican Party went along, and there was suddenly a huge, noteworthy silence of nobody talking about how these programs are headed towards insolvency,” MacGuineas said.

“And you now have President Biden also promising not to touch the programs, and a presidential race which may well focus on how people aren’t going to fix Social Security and Medicare instead of how they would… to be a huge detriment of, in particular, people who depend on those programs,” she said.

Republicans trying to do something now will likely be met with Democrats using entitlement reform as a “toxic narrative,” Winfree said.

Now we see a new reform bill for Social Security, H.R. 4853, the “Social Security 2100 Act that purports to address some of these issues; it really doesn’t. A quick look at the “TITLE I – Strengthening Benefits” reveals, among other things, these items:

  • Across-the-board benefit increase
  • More accurate cost-of-living adjustment
  • Increasing the minimum benefit for long-term low earners

It goes on in that vein. Nowhere is there anything about ensuring the long-term fiscal stability of the program, unless you count “Including earnings over $400,000 in Social Security benefit formula,” and “Application of Social Security tax to net investment income.” That second item, by the way, would appear to fall afoul of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states in part:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

It is perhaps belaboring the obvious to note that applying the Social Security tax to net investment income would not be “uniform throughout the United States.” This clause was the reason the Sixteenth Amendment was passed to authorize the income tax.

This bill is another example of what Senator Cassidy is bemoaning, namely, kicking the can down the road. For Social Security, at least, there is one solution that would seem viable, but nobody in Congress wants to talk about it. However, the idea has been kicking around for years: Privatization.

Privatization has been tried with varying levels of success in several Latin American countries. For this to work, a graduated approach might be the wisest idea; people on Social Security and Medicare now keep their benefits unchanged; people over 50 get partial privatization, and so on to the point where young people entering the workforce are fully privatized. To more easily sell the idea, the withdrawal of payroll taxes could continue, but instead of the current system, each taxpayer’s withholding goes into a private account that they manage.

Honestly, a troop of monkeys throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal could probably produce a more profitable investment portfolio than the current returns on Social Security.

Something has to be done about Social Security sooner or later, and the longer we wait, the worse things will get. In 1960, there were five people paying into Social Security for every one drawing benefits. Now, today, that ratio is two to one. It’s going to drop further. That’s not sustainable. There is a calamity fast approaching with Social Security and Medicare, and Congress lacks the courage to do what has to be done. Senator Cassidy is right to keep bringing up the problem, but at the moment, we don’t see him offering any solutions.

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