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HomeOpinionIs anyone trying to save Social Security?

Is anyone trying to save Social Security?

By Brenton Smith | The Heartland Institute

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), about one in five residents of Iowa collect retirement benefits from Social Security from which the state generates more than $11 billion in revenue. Without question, the program is vital to Iowa as a whole.

In a less abstract sense, these residents refer to people who are your neighbors, or maybe even family members or friends. So, the questions about the long-term stability of the program should be a top priority of every member of Congress, and yet few appear to have a substantive interest in this vital program.

Given the latest numbers from the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds, the program has made $22.6 trillion in promises to current voters that these experts do not expect will be kept. Roughly 2/3rds of that sum has one cause: congressional inaction.

Against this background, Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA), along with 25 of his Republican colleagues, introduced the Save Our Seniors Act to serve as a promise to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security. With words like “save” and “protect,” one might expect the legislation would add revenue to the program’s future or shave the obligations that it has to pay without all of the political posturing that has allowed the problem to fester.

According to a press release by Rep. Feenstra, the legislation would change the layout of a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to more clearly show the reductions in benefits over the next 10 years.

The office of Rep. Feenstra did not respond to questions about the purpose of this legislation. One would have to conclude that Rep. Feenstra believes that his colleagues are unaware of the problem, and have been misled by CBO about the imminent decline of the program.

While the legislation doesn’t change the finances of the venerated program by a dime, it does provide voters some insights into the plight of the program upon which millions depend.

First, 10 years is not long-term. In fact, the reports at the heart of the legislation cover roughly the life expectancy of someone who is 79-years-old today. Instead of talking about how to address the issue facing those of us 79-years-old and younger, Republican lawmakers hope to get Congress to consider how to draw pictures that other lawmakers understand.

This should not take an act of Congress. It is a job for interns who are comfortable with Photoshop.

Second, while the legislation isn’t terribly effective at solving the underlying programmatic issues, it does a very good job of illustrating the cost of time, which is the primary driver of the problem we face today.

Over the course of 2022, the program generated nearly $800 billion in unfunded liabilities because Congress did nothing. It created a similar amount in 2023, and will do so in 2024 again if Congress continues to confuse drawing pictures with taking action. These increases in the empty promises of the program are the cost of doing nothing, of which the legislation simply serves an example.

Maybe the solution is to create a report that shows the cost of doing nothing, see here.

Unfortunately, the media generally cover the subject from a distance. If the program’s Trust Funds run dry in 2033, we have a problem in nine years. That isn’t the case with the crisis forming in Social Security. According to academic research, 44 percent of those approaching retirement age plan to claim benefits early solely because of the projected shortfall of revenue for the program.

For these people, whether Social Security can pay its bills over their remaining lifetime isn’t theoretical. It is a crisis today. These decisions last a lifetime, and will come back to haunt those who are unfortunate enough to live into their 90s. It is a breath-taking statement of no confidence in Washington’s ability to solve problems.

We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us. Voters across the nation routinely vote for people who can’t distinguish between drawing pictures and effective legislation. That is why Social Security is a ticking timebomb.

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