The potential solutions to the Social Security crisis are nearly as well-known as the crisis: the projected shortfall that looms as the nation’s population continues to grow older.
Raise the eligibility age, to 68 or older. Tinker with the benefit formulas. Increase the tax, now applied only to $110,100 in income. Or put together some combination that spreads the pain around.
In its latest installment of a series on Social Security, published on the front page of Monday’s Statesman, The Associated Press lays out this menu of familiar but politically difficult options. The big surprise: how quickly the problem is growing.
Raising the eligibility age to 70 by 2063 would eliminate 37 percent of the shortfall; two years ago, this alone would have cut the shortfall in half. Applying the Social Security tax to all wages would still eliminate 72 percent of the shortfall; two years ago, this move would have eliminated 99 percent of the shortfall.
The best formula, politically and practically, is a combination of solutions. The answer is to do something, before the hole gets deeper. The federal government has perfected the art of gridlock, at great and growing cost.
All is not doom and gloom. Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus, for the time being. While the federal debt speeds toward the $16 trillion mark, Social Security can — and should — be addressed as a stand-alone issue. And as Maya MacGuineas, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told the Statesman editorial board Monday, Social Security’s problems can be remedied in one shot.
“There’s an easy elegance of actually just fixing Social Security, because it’s more of a numbers issue,” said MacGuineas, who was in Boise to discuss the federal debt, and potential solutions, at a meeting at the Statehouse.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who joined MacGuineas at Monday’s editorial board meeting, also sees some potential. “Fixing (Social Security) right now could be a tremendous positive in terms of giving people the confidence that we are able to deal with something and move forward,” he said.
Agreed. But if elected officials cannot manage to work across party lines and approach Social Security as a sensitive but solvable math problem, they’ll never be able to fix the larger deficit crisis.