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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

It's Time to Save Social Security

October 24, 2016
Weekly Columns
Since it was established in 1935, the Social Security program has become one of the most popular, and relied upon, government programs. A typical retired American will derive more than fifty percent of their income from Social Security. And approximately twenty five percent of American retirees rely on Social Security for nearly ninety percent of their income. Unfortunately, according to the latest Social Security Trustees’ Report, unless significant reforms are made to the system, the Social Security Trust Fund will be broke by 2033 and America's senior citizens will face an immediate twenty three percent cut to their benefits.
 
Unfortunately, Congress has been unable or unwilling to make the reforms that are necessary to ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund remains solvent. The sad reality is that whenever any policy to reform Social Security is proposed, certain politicians and special interest groups take the opportunity to engage in scare tactics aimed at the very people who rely upon Social Security for their livelihoods. Consequently, some have called Social security the "third rail" of politics - touch it and you will die.  This has to change.
 
The reality of the challenge facing Social Security is that without reforms, the program will go broke. The options for saving the program are numerous, and straight forward. One option would be to reduce Social Security benefits for the top twenty five percent of earners. Wealthier retirees typically have greater savings and other sources of income to fund their retirement.  Another option is to raise the retirement age from 66 to 68, 69 or even 70.  The average life expectancy in the United States continues to rise so an argument can be made that the eligibility age for Social Security should increase as well. Some have proposed to raise the income level subjected to the Social Security tax. Currently that figure is $113,700.  Increasing that number to $215,000 would reduce the Social Security shortfall by nearly a third. Eliminating the cap altogether would reduce it by two thirds. These are just a few examples of what could be done to save Social Security. They aren't complicated, nor are they draconian. We just need our elected officials to have the backbone to at least start telling the truth about the challenges facing this very popular social program and to begin an honest dialogue with the American people. And any politician or special interest group who attempts to exploit this debate by frightening senior citizens should be denounced for their shameful tactics.
 
Knowing that this discussion will be difficult, my colleague Congressman John Delaney of Maryland and I have introduced a bi-partisan piece of legislation to help solve the many problems of Social Security. If passed, this bill would create a national, bi-partisan commission composed of 13 members from both the Executive and Legislative branches. Appointed by leaders in both parties, any recommendation by the commission must reach a 9 out of 13 vote threshold. And those recommendations must be voted on by Congress. 
 
Conventional wisdom suggests that all of these potential reforms are extremely unpopular and any elected officials who have the audacity to even bring them up are exposing themselves to extreme voter backlash. However, a recent study conducted by the organization "Voice of the People" found that the American people are smarter and more courageous than the cynics understand. Americans know that Social Security is on an unsustainable path.  They know what common sense reforms need to take place. And they know that duplicitous politicians and special interest groups will not hesitate to frighten the elderly with misinformation and outright lies if it means more votes or more contributions. It's time for our elected leaders to demonstrate the same courage and common sense, and finally address this critical issue.