Hearings On The Hill

Hearings On The Hill

Social Security and Medicare Public Trustees Recommend Raising Eligibility Age and Benefit Formula Changes

Notes from Jessie Gibbons, TSCL Legislative Analyst

On June 3, 2011, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security held a hearing on the Annual Trustees Report.  The Subcommittee heard from the two Public Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare Board: Charles Blahous III and Robert Reischauer.

At the hearing, much of the focus was on the current state of the Social Security Trust Fund.  Most Members of the Subcommittee, including Chairman Sam Johnson (TX-3), seemed to agree that Social Security is on the fast track towards insolvency, but Ranking Member Xavier Becerra (CA-31) was adamant that the program is on solid footing.

Near the end of the hearing, the focus finally shifted to options for fixing the financing shortfall.  Charles Blahous and Robert Reischauer offered some suggestions.  Mr. Blahous recommended that Congress gradually raise the age of retirement to seventy, that they reduce benefits progressively by modifying the benefit formula, and that they offer more incentives for workers who delay their retirement.  Mr. Reischauer offered similar suggestions, but added that he would like to see the taxable maximum raised to cover 90% of wages.

Surprisingly, there was no discussion of slowing the growth of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) by switching to the more slowly-growing “chained” CPI.  The proposal is getting increasing attention (mostly favorable) in media editorials.  Switching to the more slowly-growing chained CPI would reduce cost-of-living-adjustments, and many policy experts view the option as a front-runner for reducing the deficit.
Many Members of the Subcommittee focused on raising the retirement age, though Mr. Blahous assured them that this action could not fix the shortfall on its own, or seniors would be working well into their late seventies.

Throughout the hearing, the witnesses stressed the importance of acting quickly, before reform options run out and seniors are left with a 23% benefit cut.  Despite their pleas, however, it doesn’t seem like Congress will be ready to compromise on Social Security reform any time soon.