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Ada News: Cole: Voters Will Force Congress to Tackle Social Security's Woes

August 23, 2015
News Stories

Ada News - Eric Swanson

Lawmakers have floated several proposals for fixing Social Security, such as raising the eligibility age and increasing the income levels subject to Social Security taxes, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole said Thursday.

Cole also said he was optimistic that Congress would find a solution to Social Security’s financial woes.

“I think in the end, the public will force people to the table,” he said.

The Oklahoma Republican, who returned to his district during Congress’ summer recess, spoke about the challenges facing Social Security during an interview Thursday at The Ada News. Later in the day, he hosted a town hall meeting at East Central University.

Nearly 60 million people receive benefits from Social Security, a massive benefits program for retired and disabled workers, spouses and children, according to the Associated Press. That number is expected to rise to 90 million over the next two decades.

But the program faces long-term financial problems, largely due to demographic shifts, according to the AP. The Social Security Disability Trust Fund is expected to run out of money next year, which could trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits unless Congress acts.

The retirement fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035, when the fund is likely to be exhausted. If that happens, recipients would see their payments either delayed or reduced.

Congress could prevent cuts to disability benefits by redirecting tax revenue from the retirement program, as it has done in the past, according to the AP. If that happens, the retirement program would lose one year of solvency, so the retirement and disability programs would have enough money to pay full benefits until 2034.

At that point, Social Security would have enough tax revenue to pay 79 percent of benefits.

Earlier this year, Cole and his fellow lawmakers John Delaney introduced a bill calling for Congress to form a bipartisan commission to tackle Social Security. If the bill becomes law, the commission would study the program’s financial challenges and recommend possible solutions.

Inspired by the 1983 Social Security Commission, the new group would have a year to present its recommendations to Congress. Any proposal would require a vote in both chambers.

Cole said the new commission would likely propose the same solution as previous panels: Gradually raise the retirement age and increase the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

“I can tell you what it’ll do, pretty much,” he said. “I don’t know the exact elements, but every commission we’ve had that has looked at this has slowly raised the age.”

He said raising the retirement age would slow the demand for benefits.

Other issues

Cole also touched on a variety of other issues, including the nuclear deal with Iran and the GOP’s bid to recapture the presidency in 2016.

* The Iran deal: Republicans strongly oppose the recent deal with Iran, which would limit the country’s future nuclear programs in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Their criticism intensified when the AP reported on a secret side deal, which allows Tehran to use its own inspectors to investigate a site that may have been used to develop nuclear weapons.

Critics of the overall deal say it relies heavily on trusting the Iranians, according to the AP. But the Obama administration insist that the agreement depends on reliable inspections

The administration has urged lawmakers to support the deal, ahead of next month’s vote on whether to approve or disapprove the agreement.

Cole said Republicans are united against the deal, but its ultimate fate will hinge on whether future revelations are in the wings.

“I’ve read the original deal and read the secret annexes, and like most members, we’ve had briefs with Secretary Kerry and we’ve listened to different opinions,” he said. “But we’re still finding things out.

“Within the last 48 hours, we’ve found out that it looks like — we’ve been told — that there may be a deal where the Iranians inspect their own military bases. … That to me, if it’s true, could really change a lot of Democratic calculations.”

• The GOP presidential race: Cole said he was impressed by the depth of the GOP field in 2016, which includes Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio; Govs. Scott Walker and Chris Christie; former Gov. Jeb Bush; businesswoman Carly Fiorina; and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.

“There’s six or seven very plausible candidates up there that could win,” he said. “Sooner or later, the voting starts. And then we see.”

Online: Ada News