Representing South Florida in Congress, I regularly hold town meetings with retirees. Inevitably, the first question from the crowd is one I often ask myself, “Why are folks in Washington lying about Social Security?”
There is a bizarre consensus that dismantling this cherished program by raising the retirement age, or cutting benefits would somehow fix the federal budget. But that would only inflict harm on the millions of Americans who rely on Social Security to survive.
Instead, Congress should enact gradual changes to ensure that Social Security continues to meet its obligations for future generations, including when my children start to retire in 2063. That is why I recently introduced the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act, which would embrace the program and improve its benefits.
The legislation addresses the program’s inadequate cost-of-living adjustments, which fail to keep up with the rising cost of seniors’ necessities. These adjustments are currently based on the Consumer Price Index — the average cost of a basket of goods for the American worker.
But the index undercounts things that the American worker spends little on but that eat up a disproportionate share of retirees’ income, for example, expensive prescriptions or medical equipment like home oxygen machines. By creating a separate consumer price index tailored to their needs, retirees wouldn’t see the buying power of their Social Security checks shrink in the face of higher Medicare premiums or other expenses.
That is not the only way this legislation would boost those checks. For the first time, income above $106,800 would be used to determine monthly benefits — and those who pay more into the system would receive higher benefits upon retirement. This legislation would also close the long-range solvency gap predicted in 2037 by phasing out the $106,800 cap on income subject to the payroll tax. Over seven years, a few more weeks of taxes would be added to the paychecks of the highest earners until they joined the 95 percent of Americans who already contribute year-round.
My constituents who rely on Social Security after a lifetime of hard work are a testament to the wisdom of our nation’s most successful domestic program. In an era of disappearing pensions, declining home values and high unemployment, we ought to build on Social Security, not take it apart.