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Johnson Opening Statement: Hearing on 2012 Annual Report of the Social Security Board of Trustees

June 21, 2012

(Remarks as Prepared)

According to this year’s report from the Social Security Board of Trustees, Social Security will be unable to keep its promises to the hard-working Americans who pay into the system.  We will hear today that not only is Social Security’s financing outlook worse, but it will also be increasingly difficult to protect benefits for those who rely on them most if we delay action much longer.

As Commissioner Astrue said, “This year’s Trustees Report contains troubling, but not unexpected, projections about Social Security’s finances.  It once again emphasizes that Congress needs to act to ensure the long-term solvency of this important program ….”

According to the Trustees, the Old Age and Survivor program will be unable to pay full benefits beginning in 2035, three years earlier than projected in last year’s annual report. That means that workers who are 44 years old today will reach their full retirement age in 2035 at which point they and everyone else will face benefit cuts of 25 percent unless Congress acts.
And in less than four years, Social Security’s Disability Insurance program will be unable to pay full benefits.

The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker today is only $1,111.  In 2016, revenues will cover 79 percent of benefits, so that’s a potential cut of about $233.   That’s real money, especially for those who are getting by on a fixed income.  

Social Security’s last major reform was in 1983.  Then, Social Security faced imminent disaster.  

In their 1982 Annual Report, the Social Security Trustees said, “Without corrective legislation in the very near future, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund will be unable to make benefit payments on time beginning no later than July 1983.” 

Members of Congress and the President were able to develop and ultimately pass, on a bipartisan basis, the Social Security Amendments of 1983, despite the near-failure of the Greenspan Commission and despite the opposition of senior advocacy groups, including AARP.  

As this year’s report makes clear, Social Security is in trouble.  But just as in 1983, I believe our nation has the will to again save Social Security.  We should not follow the path Europe has taken by waiting for a financial disaster to force changes that ultimately could end up hurting the most vulnerable.

Today we will hear from Social Security’s Public Trustees.  But we in Congress are trustees too and the public knows the longer we wait, the more difficult the choices will become and the less time Americans will have to prepare.  

With all the financial anxiety that Americans face, we should not increase the burden on them by failing to fulfill our duty in protecting our nation’s most important safety net program.  Let’s act now before it’s too late.