Originally Published in The Tallahassee Democrat
Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and the 2016 Republican candidates are lining up for their shot to take on the "third rail" of American politics -- Social Security. At stake are the well-being of the 45.9 million Americans, including over a half million Floridians, that depend on the program.
As Republicans prepare for the second debate, at the Ronald Reagan Library onSeptember 16, the continued calls to "reform" (meaning, cut) actually tarnishes the legacy of Reagan. Reagan reached across the aisle, joining Speaker Tip O'Neill and Florida Congressman Claude Pepper, developing and signing into law the Social Security Amendments of 1983, an historic agreement, which helped the Social Security Fund to be solvent for 75 years. That will take us to 2058. During the signing ceremony, Reagan said, "This law assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made." That deal and its law are still in place and working -- but the "reformers" want to renegotiate and break it.
Last year, Marco Rubio, Senator from the state with the highest proportion of 65-year-olds and where 548,178 of Social Security recipients reside, told the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., about his plan to eliminate the 12.4% payroll tax (half paid by employers and half by employees) for workers over 65. Rubio stated, "Eliminating the Social Security payroll tax for seniors will likely result in older Americans choosing to work longer, which in turn will lead to an increase in federal income-tax revenue. Seniors who choose to keep working will improve their personal retirement security and decrease their dependency on federal-assistance programs." However, for the Social Security Trust Fund to remain solvent, the payroll tax cannot be eliminated.
Making seniors work longer--a plan with which Jeb Bush agrees--isn't what seniors want to do when they were going to retire. U.S. News & World Report highlighted "lower-income people often are not able to extend their working lives." Half of Americans hold physically demanding jobs. For many, "their bodies have worn out by the time they enter their 60s."
Rubio failed to mention that the Social Security Fund is solvent, not in a deficit, according to Social Security's own website -- $2.7 trillion in surplus. The money seniors have paid into the system has paid for the program.
If the economy continues to improve, the time it will remain solvent will expand. Even in the worst-case scenario, by 2035 or later, the Fund would only then be 25% short per year. To continue the commitment to seniors, it would only cost a 1/3 of what we paid annually for the Iraq War.
AARP reported last month that over half of Americans over-50 have less than $25,000 in savings and investments. Social Security is a necessary national priority.