Tough issues, like tough nuts, crack hard. Social Security and entitlement reform is one such issue. Here, in Western Idaho, we older Americans are watching closely what our Congress — especially Rep. Raul Labrador and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch — does to preserve Social Security.
Today, we need action from Congress, a real solution — or first step — toward keeping Social Security viable. So, with Congress in full swing, there is a new idea in town, a chance to guarantee the efficacy and solvency of Social Security broadly. Various components of that solution are gaining favor, and all are being personally briefed to Congress by the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), a 1.2 million strong group of senior citizens.
The high-level briefings are to the right people, with a genuine aim of getting new approaches discussed, legislated and ultimately made part of the law. The briefings have been across the board, including to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman (and legendary POW) Sam Johnson. Again, the door is opening.
It will take effort and pressure from all older Americans to elevate this issue — but we must refocus now on entitlement reform, beginning with keeping Social Security solvent in a fair and fiscally responsible way. Specifically, since it will affect our lives here in Western Idaho, we want a solution that addresses the incontrovertible facts. Today, an aging population receives benefits from a declining workforce, and it is only going to get worse, creating a slow-motion collision. Benefits going out will outpace receipts on Social Security Disability Insurance by the end of 2016, while the other entitlement programs will grind toward broke at various times beyond that. We will feel that grinding — the shake of an empty can — in Western Idaho.
To get beyond this reality, Congress must follow the fiscal compass to true north, which involves adopting a rescue plan such as the AMAC blueprint: Without raising taxes — something employers and employees cannot afford — we must guarantee a cost-of-living increase every year for everyone, adjusting COLA rates based on income levels so that low-income individuals receive more than high-income workers, while raising the age of early retirement to 64 and full retirement to 69.
There is also a way to allow all retirees to enjoy the benefits of the free market. Recognizing that Social Security was never intended to be the sole source of income for retirees, the AMAC approach adds a voluntary, tax-deductible Early Retirement Account (ERA) to complement the other major components of the Social Security Guarantee. This creates a “best of both worlds” option for all future Americans.
Workers contributing to an ERA over the course of their careers — which cannot be accessed until age 62, or upon death or total disability — would have a true lockbox of money to rely on during retirement. ERA funds would be invested in guaranteed, low-interest bearing accounts or annuities and in secure companies, like those included in the S&P 500, for best possible returns.
Opening this discussion with members of Congress is only the start. AMAC is committed to ensuring that benefits stay equitable, available and sufficient. If this is not done now, and by us and our representatives — then when and by whom?
AMAC, which already has 6,205 committed members in this congressional district, is right: This is an issue whose time has come. This is the time to resolve the entitlement insolvency crisis. Like it or not, this crisis will impact us here, in Western Idaho. So let us go and meet it in Washington first.
Michael Keyes is the Idaho 1st Congressional Delegate for AMAC, a senior advocacy organization representing 1.2 million mature Americans.