Raising the age is high on the agenda of those who want to cut Social Security as part of any deficit deal Congress may make after the election. All options to reduce benefits are in play in ongoing Beltway discussions over fixing Social Security, which is projected to be able to pay full benefits until 2033, but only seventy-five percent of benefits after that, unless Congress changes the law. So far, the political climate has not permitted a robust discussion of other approaches, such as raising payroll taxes either outright, or by increasing the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes—currently $110,100.
Still, when the AP asked whether Social Security taxes should be raised so that benefits could be kept the same for everyone, 53 percent said yes. Thirty-six percent said they would rather keep the tax rate the same but reduce benefits for future generations. The question did not permit a choice of an across-the-board tax increase or raising the wage base for the tax. Other polls show that around two-thirds of Americans prefer raising the wage base.
Raising the retirement age has a lot of political appeal because people are living longer. On the surface, it seems logical, and the pols can sell it easier than saying they want to cut benefits across the board. So when a story comes along, especially one that has such a long reach, that does not make clear that raising the retirement age is a benefit cut, it tends to confuse the public even more about a program that’s complicated. But, as the AP’s own poll shows, it’s one that is super important to most Americans.
Meanwhile: Kudos to AP reporters Jack Gillum and Richardo Alonso-Zaldivar for taking a close look at what vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and others, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said about Medicare at the GOP convention this week.
Ryan, for example, said: “The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”
Ryan was talking out of both sides of his mouth, the fact checkers found. They pointed out that Ryan, who heads the House Budget Committee, himself assumed those same cuts in the budgets he pushed through the House and used the money for deficit reduction. Their fact check also noted, as CJR has repeatedly reported, those cuts do not affect Medicare beneficiaries directly, but “reduce payments to hospitals, health insurance plans, and other service providers.”
The AP told readers that Ryan’s own plan for Medicare would “squeeze the program’s spending even more than the changes Obama made, shifting future retirees into a system in which they would get a fixed payment to shop for coverage among private insurance plans.” The AP correctly noted that those changes would “expose the elderly to more out-of-pocket costs.”
Gillum and Alonso-Zaldivar then tackled the convention rhetoric of Christie and others, too. The piece is worth a read, and we hope the AP continues on its fact-checking mission on both parties, and that other reporters and news outlets will do the same.