News Article of Senator Crapo
SECURING SOCIAL SECURITY
Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
Contact: Susan Wheeler
During the recent debate in the Senate over the federal budget, Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and I introduced an amendment that would stop the United States government from raiding the so-called Social Security Trust Fund. I highlight the term “Trust Fund” because it’s misleading. Every year the federal government uses the surplus deposited into the Old Age Survivors and Disability Income (OASDI), more commonly referred to as Social Security, to cover expenses incurred in other government programs. Now, instead of money there is an ever-increasing pile of IOUs issued by the government to all taxpayers. With the number of workers paying for retirees steadily declining--40 workers paid for one retiree in the 1940s, three pay for one right now, and 2.2 will pay for one in about 20 years--you can likely guess what those IOUs are worth and where the system is headed. To the detriment of future taxpayers, the amendment was defeated by a vote of 53-46.
Because of the way Social Security is set up, Congress can cut benefits at any time, change the structure of the program, or raise taxes even further. These are not unlikely scenarios—Congress will face tough choices in coming years because the government has not set aside any money to pay out future benefits. Considering the outcome of the failed vote on the amendment, the majority of the Senate seems predictably intent upon placing current budget priorities ahead of the sober reality of much higher tax rates for our children and grandchildren. These rates will be necessary to raise enough revenue to fund Social Security in twenty or thirty years.
The DeMint-Crapo amendment would have: 1) Stopped Social Security surpluses from being spent on other government programs; 2) Ensured Social Security surpluses were only used for Social Security benefits; 3) Provided a voluntary option for younger Americans to obtain legally binding ownership of a portion of their benefits; 4) Made no changes to the benefits of those Americans born before January 1, 1950.
When we consider the questionable future of Social Security solvency, it is good to bear in mind the original intent of the program. A recent Washington Post article said it best: “The point of Social Security was to subsidize those who couldn't work, not those who could. The program's founding document said it would support old people who were ‘dependent,’ ‘beyond the productive period’ and ‘without means of self-support.’” Even though the system was designed to be a safety net, we need to make sure that it is a viable one that fulfills its important obligation to seniors.
I, for one, do not want to saddle my children and grandchildren with sky-high taxes. Furthermore, I believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own money. Many twenty and thirty-year-olds today have doubts about whether there will be any Social Security when they retire. This begs the question: do we fix the system now, when we can make incremental changes, or do we leave the burden for coming generations to bear when it becomes a catastrophic financial crisis? The choice is truly ours to make. Allowing the federal government to continue to cut benefits, raise taxes or both is a risky proposition. Setting aside personal benefits now is a concrete solution.
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