As part of the ongoing negotiations over the debt limit, some Republicans in both the Senate and the House are floating the idea of Social Security reform as a way to trim some costs from the budget. The program is currently projected to reach a point of insolvency in approximately twelve years without some changes being made, but any suggestion of reductions in benefits has historically been met with significant public resistance. Also, the Democrats are already licking their chops at the prospect of Republicans asking for cuts. “We tried to warn you! If you give any power to the GOP they’ll try to end Social Security!” It’s precisely the message they would love to carry into the presidential primary season. But it’s also getting harder for the swamp creatures to ignore the elephant in the room. (The Hill)
Some senators are eyeing a divided Congress as an opportunity to tackle reforms to Social Security, as the program faces significant solvency issues in little more than a decade.
Changes to Social Security are a perpetually heavy lift for Congress, but they’ve gained traction as some House Republicans float cuts to it as part of debt ceiling negotiations.
“A wise senator said that whenever you see reforms shore up those kinds of programs, it usually takes a divided Congress,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told The Hill this week.
There’s a slim possibility that this doesn’t have to turn into the same political football that it’s historically become. We’ve already heard reports that Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Angus King (I-Maine) have been sketching out some sort of bipartisan compromise to “protect” Social Security, but we still don’t know what that would look like or how much broad support it might garner.
When considering changes (read as “cuts”) to Social Security, we need to consider both the fiscal reality and the political reality. In fiscal terms, is the Social Security system bloated, strained, and going broke? Of course it is. We’ve applied various bandaids to it over the past few decades, but those changes were never permanent “fixes.” The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train, but it’s one of those problems that are too large, complicated, and daunting to tackle head-on.
Now let’s give a nod to the political realities that are involved with this. New cuts could be made to at least push the inevitable doomsday scenario further down the road. And that would be the fiscally responsible thing to do. But any proposal that would include cuts to Social Security would be almost universally unpopular and the cuts would pretty much exclusively impact people above the age of 60. As you are likely aware, that demographic is traditionally the GOP’s strongest part of its base.
If you want to tank the GOP’s promising roadmap to take back the Senate in 2024 (to say nothing of the White House), just talk about cutting Social Security benefits. This scenario is probably more of a red flag now than it has been in decades because the average amount of savings held by middle-class Americans dropped significantly during the recession and price spikes of 2022 after seeing a period of growth during the pandemic. People who are looking at a diminished retirement piggy bank aren’t going to want to hear about cuts to their Social Security benefits.
If the GOP can get the Democrats to go along with a bipartisan plan to extend the life of the Social Security system, that would be great and I would readily support it. But they would be fools to try to walk that plank alone.