Smith: Social Security insolvency should be #1 at next GOP prez debate

by Brenton Smith

For those Iowans who depend upon Social Security, little should be more worrisome than the GOP’s first debate among its contenders for president.

The troubling part of the debate was not what was said by the candidates, but rather what was not asked by the moderators. During the two-hour debate, not one question was asked about Social Security’s financial outlook, or the possibility of slashing benefits in 2033.

The absence of the topic of Social Security from the debate stage serves as an early warning alarm to those who depend upon the system that the long-term stability of that life line will once again drift away from the attention of those who wish to run the country.

It has been a long drift. The last time Congress found common ground on stabilizing the program’s long-term finances was nearly 40 years ago. Since that time, the buffer between seniors and reduced checks has shrunk from nearly 80 years down to 10.

Another way to express the building problem is someone who is 79-years-old today will likely outlive the program’s ability to keep the promises that it has made to seniors. That is not a worst-case scenario. It is the result that we should expect, even in a relatively robust economy.

While most people focus on when the consequences of Social Security will arrive, the cost to fix the program has continued to soar well out of sight of the broader public debate about the economy. Since 2010, the cost to fix Social Security has grown more than twice as fast as our economy.

In other words, the hole in the program’s finances is growing twice as fast as our ability to fill it.

The driver of this growth is the passage of time. According to the latest forecast from the trustees of the program’s trust funds, congressional inaction accounts for roughly 66 percent of the problem we face today. In the time you spend reading this column, the program will generate roughly $3 million in promises to current voters that it is unlikely to keep.

Yes, someone needs to ask hard questions of those who wish to run the country.

While 10 years might sound like some remote start date, the consequences of Social Security’s imbalances are playing out in the present day. According to the 2023 Schroders US Retirement Survey, nearly 45 percent of respondents said they would claim Social Security benefits earlier because they were concerned Social Security would be forced to reduce benefits as a result of the program’s dire financial situation.

The decision to take benefits early could haunt these retirees for the rest of their lives, particularly those with the misfortune of living into their 90s. These are Americans compromising their future solely because they doubt Washington has the ability to work on their concerns. It is a breathtaking statement of no confidence.

At this point, there is no indication that members of either party are aware that their constituents are redefining their lives as a result of their inability to do their job. Democrats collectively are more than $10 trillion apart on what benefits the program should provide. Republicans, on the other hand, have only hinted at changes that they would like to make, but none have gone to the trouble of putting those ideas in legislative form.

Some voters firmly believe that Congress will step in at the last minute with changes so that those in or near retirement won’t see benefit reductions. Perhaps Congress will make up a lot of the shortfall by supplementing Social Security with general fund revenues. It is an extreme leap of faith to believe that a Congress in the future will solve this problem, when we can’t get those currently elected to even address the fact that there is a problem in the first place.

For those who depend upon Social Security, there is one certainty: Politicians will never provide answers to the difficult questions that they are not asked.

Brenton Smith (think@heartland.org) is a policy advisor with The Heartland Institute.

Categories: politics

22 replies »

  1. From my perspective, the progressive socialist Democrats do not want to fix social security because they already plan to replace the program with universal basic income, as according to the United Nations, a minimal income is a human right, which people shouldn’t work for, as well as housing and other rights. The World Bank has been very busy relative to this agenda, and considers the US SNAP program a component of Universal Basic Income. .

    • Well, you folks want to cut WIC. The GQP cares not if children have homes, food, health care. The ‘red’ states have the overwhelming most medically caused bankruptcies. “In the past five years, more than half of U.S. adults report they’ve gone into debt because of medical or dental bills, the KFF poll found.
      A quarter of adults with health care debt owe more than $5,000. And about 1 in 5 with any amount of debt said they don’t expect to ever pay it off.

      “Debt is no longer just a bug in our system. It is one of the main products,” said Dr. Rishi Manchanda, who has worked with low-income patients in California for more than a decade and served on the board of the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt. “We have a health care system almost perfectly designed to create debt.”

      The burden is forcing families to cut spending on food and other essentials. Millions are being driven from their homes or into bankruptcy, the poll found.
      Nearly half of Americans in households making more than $90,000 a year have incurred health care debt in the past five years, the KFF poll found.

      Women are more likely than men to be in debt. And parents more commonly have health care debt than people without children.

      But the crisis has landed hardest on the poorest and uninsured.

      Debt is most widespread in the South, an analysis of credit records by the Urban Institute shows. Insurance protections there are weaker, many of the states haven’t expanded Medicaid and chronic illness is more widespread.”

      Your ilk even fight to keep the government from using its buying power to reduce medication costs.

  2. Ask why it’s always about cutting Social Security, a government mandated and controlled contributory retirement program, and never about cutting back welfare or running out of welfare money.

  3. In my humble and cynical opinion, the covid vax was designed to reduce the number of people depending on Social Security. According to Steve Kirsch’s analysis of US Nursing Home Data, he shows that the vaccines were a huge failure and increased the risk of dying. In fact, 40% of the COVID deaths were in US nursing homes and CMS isn’t analyzing the data. Why? Why do they keep pushing the vax? They know it doesn’t prevent infection or transmission and that it damages the immune system making people more susceptible to other infections.

    • Exactly, there were many credentialed virologists talking about the risks associated with the shot. One of their arguments was that you do not vaccinate a global population during a pandemic for a COVID virus because it continually mutates and creates new strains. The same applies to the new vaccine coming out. That strain is already gone and mutated. The vaccine is useless. There is no proof that the vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization for seniors. This fact is unsubstantiated. I just reached out to a friend who is fully caxef and boosted. She is now in a wheelchair and can no longer speak. Many vaccinated people I know suddenly presented with heart issues and high blood pressure.

  4. Gee. Millions of old, often chronically ill people jammed together in buildings and a disease spread thru the air. A REAL MYSTERY there. Duh! Death rates up 17% this week. NEW MUTATIONS. IMHO your anti vax/mask helped kill over 1,100,000 Americans and more to come. Keep spreading death.

  5. The limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes is referred to as the taxable maximum or the Social Security tax cap. For 2023, that maximum is set at $160,200. If the limit were realistic, considering all the transfer of America’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, there would be no problem. Create the problem, use it. It has become the GOP way.

    • You reveal yourself as a progressive socialist with this comment. I sincerely doubt you are a retired nurse. The only party creating havoc with the intent to change the social, political and economic system in America are progressive socialists aka leftists. The GOP didn’t create the problem with Social Security. The political left has been unhappy with Social Security since inception in the 1930s as a component of the New Deal. The left considered it the first, failed attempt at social change and radical reform (their words not mine). This is discussed in great detail in a book called The Greening of America, published in 1970. The book was written by a Yale Professor. He credits the book to input from Yale students, and marxist philosophers Herbert Marcuse and Karl Marx.

      • I seriously doubt you know ANYTHING about A&P, patho, micro, viruses, cell mutations or ICU/ER medicine. I remember the meetings we had a Dartmouth when the ‘bird flu’ threat was looming. As an ethics committee member I had to discuss, with other hospital reps, how many ventilators we had, our 02 storage capacity, our precaution beds, staffing, how to decide what criteria to use to decide for who gets a vent. Things you know nothing about. How do you make life and death decisions and live with them after: “I seriously doubt” your sources and citations. You and your ilk made life h*** during Covid for health teams all over the country. You can “seriously doubt” your nonsense. I do not doubt your lack of humanity. And I read that book when it was new, when I was at Umass Amherst (on full scholarship) when it came out. While doing my double major and volunteering at Belchertown and the housing projects in Springfield. “You reveal yourself” to be a real ‘crabs in a bucket’ Republican.

  6. The deaths being referenced as increased mortality are young people, not seniors in nursing homes. Insurance companies are reporting on the increase of deaths relative to paid claims for working age people.

  7. “Republicans, on the other hand, have only hinted at changes that they would like to make, but none have gone to the trouble of putting those ideas in legislative form.”

    That is some great revisionist history, because Republicans (not Trump) only talk about privatizing SS, going back to when W tried to make it an anchor platform of his second term. Just like their irrational fear of the post office, they hate things that go to all Americans.

    • Well Chris, if they privatize everything they can add billions in profit for wealthy shareholders while providing even less to Americans. Medical tourism is booming as you can get care cheaper overseas, even including transportation, housing costs.
      “In the previous edition of U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, we reported that people in the United States experience the worst health outcomes overall of any high-income nation.1 Americans are more likely to die younger, and from avoidable causes, than residents of peer countries.

      Between January 2020 and December 2021, life expectancy dropped in the U.S. and other countries.2 With the pandemic a continuing threat to global health and well-being, we have updated our 2019 cross-national comparison of health care systems to assess U.S. health spending, outcomes, status, and service use relative to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. We also compare U.S. health system performance to the OECD average for the 38 high-income countries for which data are available. The data for our analysis come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other international sources.”
      Health care spending, both per person and as a share of GDP, continues to be far higher in the United States than in other high-income countries. Yet the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t have universal health coverage.
      The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth, the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions, the highest maternal and infant mortality, and among the highest suicide rates.
      The U.S. has the highest rate of people with multiple chronic conditions and an obesity rate nearly twice the OECD average.
      Americans see physicians less often than people in most other countries and have among the lowest rate of practicing physicians and hospital beds per 1,000 population.
      Screening rates for breast and colorectal cancer and vaccination for flu in the U.S. are among the highest, but COVID-19 vaccination trails many nations.
      All countries in this analysis, except the U.S., guarantee government, or public, health coverage to all their residents. In addition to public coverage, people in several of the countries have the option to also purchase private coverage. In France, nearly the entire population has both private and public insurance.

      In 2021, 8.6 percent of the U.S. population was uninsured.8 The U.S. is the only high-income country where a substantial portion of the population lacks any form of health insurance.

  8. I know of no republican that wants to stop social security for American citizens, who have earned the working credits and paid into the system. You will need to be more specific by defining “all Americans”. Who do you consider Americans?

    • Your party of racism and gerrymandering, with NO party platform, has its “raise the voting age to 25” clowns. Look at your platform when Ike was our President. The last good president the party has had (excepting Bush Sr, maybe).

    • “49. Social Security Privatization: We support privatization of the Social Security system.”

      GOP Platform for the State of Texas. 2022.

      Who cares if Republicans trash the economy, as under Bush Jr. Banks will get bailed out. Lose your holdings? Hurry up and die. You will lose a LOT of your compounded savings to fees (not so with Uncle Sam).

  9. They need to remove the Social Security tax cap. But leave the maximum payouts as is. That alone would probably fix this mess.

  10. “The decision to take benefits early could haunt these retirees for the rest of their lives, particularly those with the misfortune of living into their 90s. These are Americans compromising their future solely because they doubt Washington has the ability to work on their concerns. It is a breathtaking statement of no confidence.”
    I have to take issue with that statement. If I waited until “full retirement age” to apply as opposed to taking it at 62 (which is what I did) I would have to live until just under 80 years (between 79-80) just to break even. Many people that I know who are waiting for the golden ring of 66 & 6 or 7 months, will in all likelihood not live to or beyond that age based on their current health…and yet they wait. The Guv doesn’t care whether or not I will get more $ if I wait, they hope I will die first or soon after. I’m still working part time for myself and aiming for the maximum allowable without a SS penalty. I’m making it now without it, I will lay aside the SS $ for later, so if I do live to 90 I hope to still be fine. I also have no intentions to spend tons of $$$ keeping my self alive at my or taxpayer expense.

  11. In reality DC has been kicking this down the road for decades, The Amendments in 1980 and 1983 etc were never expected to do more than hold off insolvency a while longer. No one in DC regardless of the letter after their name has been willing to touch the third rail of SSI. Sadly, had they had the courage back in the 70s when the actuaries started warning them of coming insolvency, they could have made relatively minor and painless adjustments. Now it’s gonna hurt.

    • The UN and the US knew there was a population collapse coming and that birth rates were no longer at replacement levels in Western countries, while poor and third world countries did not face the same decline. The powers that be knew a long time ago that social security would not be sustainable because of this. This is part of the reason for the sustainable development goal for member states to facilitate safe and orderly migration, which the UN states on its website. Migrants are being pushed around the globe with the support of the United Nations. You can Google the UN paper about Migration being the solution to aging and declining populations.

  12. You mean the biggest Ponzi scheme in American policy history is going, going, gone? Bernie, say it isn’t so! When pensions were done away with in favor of 401K stock market casino gambling, when the SSA kept creeping up the age limits, when “W” lowered the SSI withholding, when 2008 wiped out many assets (real and imagined), etc., the fact that workers today keep paying into a system that is basically a sieve with little to no return at this point (our dollar value is tanking bigly.) Many today are tapping those 401Ks and IRAs because they can’t manage their obligations, even if they are working. Yet, those in charge are set up for life on our dimes and we keep letting them get away with it. Useful idiots indeed.

  13. Seems to be plenty of money for the Ukraine idiocy and the illegals get $2200 per 1 adult and child. SS gets only $1400 and they are running out of money????. Something seem odd the way the democrats add? Why not make our lives better and prosperous, vote for Trump, end wars, have peace on earth, cheap energy, no inflation, no illegals.