Hearing on the President’s and Other Bipartisan Entitlement Reform Proposals
SUBCOMMITTEE ON SOCIAL SECURITY
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
May 23, 2013
Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
|SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
LINDA SÁNCHEZ, California
JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
PATRICK J. TIBERI, Ohio
|XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
G. William Hoagland
Senior Vice President, Bipartisan Policy Center
Jason Fichtner, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center
Senior Policy Advisor, Economic Security Policy, National Council of La Raza
Senior Pension Fellow, American Academy of Actuaries
C. Eugene Steuerle, Ph.D.
Institute Fellow, Urban Institute
Hearing on the President’s and Other Bipartisan Entitlement Reform Proposals
Thursday, May 23, 2013
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:29 a.m., in Room B‑318, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sam Johnson [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
[The advisory of the hearing follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Good morning and welcome to the third hearing in the Committee’s series on the President’s and other bipartisan entitlement reform proposals. I appreciate all of you being here. Workers have worked hard, played by the rules.
Workers have earned the right to a secure retirement that no one can take away, yet unless Congress acts to protect and preserve Social Security, beginning in 2033, Social Security will be unable to pay full benefits, according to the Board of Trustees.
Here is why Social Security has to be fixed. Under Social Security, workers’ payroll taxes aren’t saved in the worker’s own retirement account. Instead, their taxes are immediately used to pay benefits for today’s retirees. This kind of system works when many people are paying in and very few collecting benefits. In the 1950s, for instance, there were 16 workers paying for each retiree collecting benefits, but today, families are having fewer children and people are living longer. As a result, even though the number of workers is growing, the number of retirees is growing much faster. Today there are just over three workers supporting each retiree. In the future there will be less than two.
Back in 2008 the first baby boomers started collecting retirement benefits. Costs rose quickly, and 2 years later in 2010, Social Security began running permanent cash flow deficits, reaching $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years. And those deficits will grow larger and very fast.
When today’s 47‑year‑old workers reach their full retirement age in 2033, they and everyone else already receiving benefits face a 25 percent cut unless Congress does its job.
Fixing Social Security is a serious challenge. If we wait, it will become a crisis. The sooner we act, the sooner changes can be phased in gradually over a number of years. If we fail to act, future generations will be faced with changes that are sudden and even larger.
Today our witnesses include representatives from two bipartisan groups who have taken a hard look at Social Security and come up with ways to fix it. It wasn’t easy work, but they know we can’t afford to wait. Their two plans have a lot in common. They would slow the growth of benefits for higher earners, take into account the fact people are living longer, and make important changes to improve benefits for some of those poorly served by the current system.
Since these plans were written, Social Security’s 10‑year cash flow deficit has increased by over 450 percent. Across‑the‑board cuts will occur 7 years sooner, and Social Security’s long‑term shortfall is almost 60 percent larger. It is unfair and wrong to leave with our kids and grandkids a Social Security system that can’t pay full promised benefits.
The good work of Simpson‑Bowles and the Bipartisan Policy Center Debt Reduction Task Force shows us there are bipartisan solutions to fix Social Security, and as I have said before, the President likes to say if we agree on a policy, then we should act and not let our differences hold us up. Today we will again carry out our responsibility to every American to closely examine each bipartisan policy option. When we agree, we ought to act, and we will.
I now recognize the ranking member, Mr. Becerra, for any opening statement you care to make.
Mr. Becerra. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I think we can all agree on some basics. First, Social Security has never contributed a penny to our current deficit or to our national debt. So any changes to Social Security should be solely to address its long‑term challenges and not to make Social Security pay for the debts run up by tax cuts for the rich or two unpaid‑for wars.
Second, Americans support Social Security. They have earned it through their weekly payroll contributions, and they are counting on their elected representatives to protect it as well.
And finally, at least for me, the America I grew up knowing and loving has always risen to the challenge of building a better place for our children, providing for that in any way possible, whether that means college, a strong and secure Nation, or Social Security once we retire. We build; we don’t tear down in America.
And so here we go, Social Security has never contributed a penny to our current deficit or debt. I want to emphasize that. Social Security today has $2.7 trillion in Treasury certificates that have never been used and are available for those who need retirement, to go into retirement or are disabled, or if you happen to have lost your parent who was a worker, you then as a survivor get to receive Social Security benefits. $2.7 trillion.
And I would like to show a chart at this stage that I think proves that Americans not only have supported Social Security, but continue to support Social Security today, overwhelmingly, and they are counting on their elected representatives to protect Social Security. As you can see from the chart, even though lots of folks have heard a lot of scare talk about Social Security being bankrupt or going under, and sometimes Americans’ confidence may fluctuate, the reality is this, as this chart shows, Social Security has always had the confidence of the American public.
How many people in America think Social Security spends about the right amount, or maybe it doesn’t give quite enough in its benefits? Well, that has always hovered somewhere around 89 percent of Americans who think it is too little or about right. Less than 10 percent of Americans since 1984 have said that Social Security pays out too much, that it is too generous. And so support for Social Security is strong. The vast majority of Americans are there. A recent poll by the National Academy of Social Insurance found that 74 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of people born after 1980 said they wanted to preserve Social Security even if it meant working people would have to pay a little more in taxes.
Now, the America I know can and will rise to this challenge of meeting Social Security’s future challenges. There is no question that Social Security will need to make some changes to ensure its future that is vibrant, but in the America I know, we wouldn’t start by planning to cut benefits for seniors, disabled workers, and children who have lost their parent. America’s workers deserve much better than that. The vast majority of Social Security recipients, both today and in the future, have very modest incomes and few resources. For six out of 10 retirees in our country, Social Security provides the majority of their income.
There are some who seem to suggest that deep Social Security cuts are inevitable, so we should just make them now. That to me is discouraging, and that is certainly not the America I grew up in. To give up and to say that we can’t assure a measure of dignity to those who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and were planning on it for retirement, that we have no choice? No.
Let me show you a different chart. Here is the average benefit on the far right that you see that Americans earn from Social Security. On average, about $14,000 per retiree comes from Social Security and a little less if you are a disabled worker. Now, that is quite a bit less than what the average worker today makes, which is about $50,000, as you see on the chart. But then look at the most fortunate in our country, the most well‑off people in society, the top 1 percent of workers earned five times as much as the average worker in America and 18 times as much as the average Social Security beneficiary who is retired. When you get to the stratosphere, the top one‑tenth of 1 percent, they made an average of 41 times what the typical Social Security retiree gets, and if you look all the way to the left, you see what an average CEO in America would make, about $12 million in 2011, on average. On average. That is 869 times what the average retiree receives from Social Security.
So I ask you, where shall we start as we think about how to address Social Security’s challenges in the future? Should we take it from the Social Security beneficiaries’ modest checks or should we look to those most fortunate and see if they can contribute a little bit more? Should we ask the widow to give up her modest benefit or ask the CEO to pitch in a little bit more?
Social Security will face a challenge, there is no doubt. But in America, at least the America I know and love, we can rise to this challenge. And, so Mr. Chairman, I am looking forward to this hearing. I think we need a lot, we can learn a lot from the witnesses who are here, and we need to listen quite a bit, so I am anxious to hear their testimony, and I yield back.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you. The gentleman’s time has expired. I would like to just state that Congress has been raising taxes on workers since the beginning of the program, and it still hasn’t worked. In 1935 the tax rate for employers and employees was just 1 percent on earnings up to $3,000 a year. Congress has raised the payroll tax rate 14 times since then.
As is customary, any member is welcome to submit a statement for the hearing record. Before we move on to our testimony, I want to remind our witnesses to please limit your statements to 5 minutes. However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made a part of the hearing record.
We have one witness panel today, one of whom is stuck in traffic, as I was this morning, so I understand that. G. William Hoagland, senior vice president, Bipartisan Policy Center; Jason Fichtner, Ph.D., senior research fellow with Mercatus Center; Leticia Miranda, senior policy adviser, the Economic Security Policy, National Council of La Raza; Donald Fuerst, senior pension fellow, American Academy of Actuaries; and Eugene Steuerle, Ph.D., institute fellow, Urban Institute; and Mr. Lorenzen isn’t here, so Mr. Hoagland, I am going to recognize you. Please go ahead.
STATEMENT OF G. WILLIAM HOAGLAND, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER
Mr. Hoagland. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Becerra, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the recommendations to the Social Security program made by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Domenici‑Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force. I was privileged to serve on that bipartisan group that released its recommendations in November of 2010. Our report came out about the same time as the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform upon which Dr. Rivlin also served along with Mr. Becerra.
The Domenici‑Rivlin report was designed as a total plan of policies to spur economic recovery and to reduce our debt to GDP down to our goal then was 60 percent by the year 2020. But as we examined the various options to address the Social Security program, the overarching question was not how do we produce savings for the program, but rather more, how can we improve the current system, make it fairer, and ensure that it is a viable program around for decades to come.
Our benefit recommendations were four. The first was indexing the Social Security benefit formula to account for longevity; the second was to increase the progressivity of the benefit formula; the third was to provide a more robust minimum benefit; and the fourth was to implement a benefit bump‑up for older beneficiaries.
Now, related to the first recommendation on indexing of longevity, the biggest issue confronting Social Security today, and of course it is due to demographics. As the large cohort of baby boomers, of which I am one, retire, we will collect benefits for longer than previous age cohorts. Our task force felt that any viable reform package must confront this trend head on. We also understood that certain individuals, particularly those working in hard industries, such as mining, fisheries, loggers, firefighters, steel mills, among others, they may want and they may need to take early retirement at age 62, unlike those of us who work for soft think tanks.
Therefore, beginning in 2023 instead of indexing both the early and the normal retirement age to longevity, meaning that they would increase by 1 month every 2 years, we proposed to index the benefit formula for increases in life expectancy. This would ensure that those seniors who could not remain in the labor force well into their 60s would retain the option to begin collecting reduced benefits at age 62.
Now, specifically the provision would index the bend points to longevity by reducing those factors starting in 2023 to reflect the ratio of, the life expectancy at 67 measured in 2018 to the life expectancy at 67 for 4 years before the initial benefit eligibility. This change in life expectancy is estimated today to reduce the benefit levels by about three‑tenths of a percent a year, and this policy of indexing the benefit formula to longevity comprised nearly half of the savings achieved by the plan to get to actuarial balance.
The second recommendation was a modest increase in the progressivity of the benefit formula. Currently, as you know, monthly wages above roughly $4,800, the top most bend point are replaced at 15 percent. We recommended gradually phasing that down over a decade to 10 percent.
The third recommendation related to the minimum benefit. Our task force proposed to provide a special minimum benefit tied to 133 percent of the Federal poverty level for retirees who have at least 30 years of creditable work.
Fourth, we similarly agreed to the importance of providing some protection to beneficiaries from the danger of outliving their savings, and to address this, we suggested a benefit bump of 1 percent of the average monthly Social Security benefit to be administered each year between the ages of 81 and 85, and these two proposals, the minimum benefit and the old age bump‑up, would be integral to one of the task force’s other proposals, I realize that is not the purpose of this hearing, and that was indexing the cost of living adjustment to the chain weighted price index. Further, beginning in 2020, the task force also proposed that newly hired State and local government workers be incorporated into the program.
Finally, and again, a subject for another day, our total package recommended restoring the taxable maximum to cover 90 percent of all earnings, and as part of our task force’s broader tax reform, we proposed to cap and phase out the exclusion of employer‑provided health insurance, which would bring additional payroll receipts into the trust fund.
The Domenici‑Rivlin Task Force members concluded that this package would accomplish sustainable solvency, and it was verified by the chief actuary of Social Security. It would do this in a progressive manner, protecting vulnerable beneficiaries and distributing the burden in an evenhanded and responsible manner among taxpayers and retirees while assuring Social Security will be there for our children and our grandchildren in the years to come. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you. I appreciate your comments.
[The statement of Mr. Hoagland follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Fichtner, you are now recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF JASON FICHTNER, PH.D., SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, MERCATUS CENTER
Mr. Fichtner. Thank you, sir. Good morning, Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Becerra, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify here today. My name is Jason Fichtner, and I am a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University where I research fiscal and budgetary issues, including Social Security. I am also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and Virginia Tech, where I teach courses in economics and public policy. All opinions here today are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employers.
For my oral remarks, I want to briefly discuss how various features of Social Security, from the technical details of the benefit formula to the benefit eligibility at age 62 to the nonworking spouse benefit all act to encourage early retirement and as a disincentive to continued work.
Most analyses of Social Security have concluded that its current design offers substantially negative incentives for work, especially for younger seniors and for secondary household earners. Research has found that Social Security’s return on payroll tax contributions by those age 62 to 65 is a negative 49.5 percent, meaning that the program literally pays back just pennies in additional benefits for each additional dollar contributed. Other research has found that the broader array of Federal laws strongly inhibits continued work by seniors, with disincentives growing stronger as they age. It is notable that labor force participation did not decline for those younger than 65 until Social Security’s early eligibility age of 62 was established. After the creation of the EEA, labor force participation by males age 55 to 64 also began to trend downward, dropping over 20 percent, from 87.3 percent in 1960 to 67.7 percent in 1990.
Workforce participation trends among older workers are not driven primarily by issues of physical incapacity. Labor force participation among males over 65 was much higher in the mid 20th century than it is now, despite substantial gains in national health and longevity since then. Incentives have played a much greater role. The design of the basic Social Security benefit formula imposes net incremental income losses on those extending their careers. The primary reason for the work disincentive is that Social Security’s benefit formula is progressive while also based on a worker’s top 35 years of earnings on average.
Indeed, someone who takes a part‑time transition job on the way to full retirement may well pay a full year’s worth of additional taxes while receiving no additional benefit credits whatsoever. This is a substantial work disincentive at precisely the time when a worker is likely to make a retirement decision. Social Security’s early retirement age of 62 is actually the most common age of benefit claiming. In fact, over 70 percent of beneficiaries take advantage of the opportunity to claim Social Security retirement benefits before the normal retirement age, despite receiving lower monthly benefits by doing so. Early retirement is only certain to make beneficiaries better off in the short run. The reduction of monthly benefits that accompanies early claims also results in net lifetime benefit reductions for those who live to especially advanced ages, often a time in life when beneficiaries are most likely to rely on Social Security benefits to pay their expenses.
Also, Social Security specifically provides a disincentive to taxpaying work by more than one earner per household. Incremental returns on taxes paid by women have been estimated at negative 32 percent relative to what they would receive by staying out of the paid workforce altogether and instead often collecting the nonworking spouse benefit. As a general rule, Social Security aggressively distributes income from two‑earner married couples to one‑earner married couples, penalizing a household decision to have both spouses work and contribute payroll taxes.
A medium‑wage two‑earner couple both born in 1955 can expect to receive back only 80 cents from Social Security of each dollar contributed, whereas a one‑earner couple can expect to receive $1.39. Much of the original welfare system was designed to support single earner families. Today, 61 percent of married women participate in the labor force compared to only 32 percent in 1960. Social Security needs to reflect the evolving workplace and not penalize two‑earner couples.
It is unsurprising that our future economic growth outlook is depressed by current projections for labor force participation, relative to what would be the case if more of our national gains in longevity and health were converted into longer periods of taxpaying work. Extending workforce participation would pay dividends for individual seniors and for the economy.
With age 62 now the most popular age to claim benefits, raising the EEA would necessarily delay many claims and would likely correlate to continued employment. Researchers estimate that raising the EEA to 65 would increase the long‑run GDP by 3 or 4 percent. Another reform would be to offer the full retirement credits as a lump sum option, which could potentially provide an incentive to continued working without additional financing costs to the system. I would also point out that you could change the benefit formula from instead of being on 35 years of work history to looking at an average and doing it per year. This would help take care of complications caused by the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset.
Others have suggested that payroll tax relief be offered to seniors. We should be careful if we do this, but the overall positive effect that such a policy can have on labor participation by seniors should not be dismissed. Thank you for your time and opportunity to testify today. I look forward to your questions.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you, sir.
[The statement of Mr. Fichtner follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Lorenzen found his way through traffic, but I am going to come back to you, since we have already started.
Ms. Miranda, you are welcome. Please go ahead.
STATEMENT OF LETICIA MIRANDA, SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR, ECONOMIC SECURITY POLICY, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA
Ms. Miranda. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I am a senior policy adviser at NCLR. NCLR has been working to advance retirement security among Hispanic Americans for over a decade, and my work is centered on this topic.
Social Security serves 56 million retirees, disabled adults, and survivors of deceased workers and their families. The focus of today’s hearing is to discuss options to strengthen Social Security so that this critical program can continue providing benefits into the future. In this regard, I want to make three key points:
First, Social Security benefits are modest yet critical to most seniors, especially because pensions are becoming weaker. Second, most ‑‑ the proposed benefits will cause deep harm to a vast majority of seniors. Third, we need meaningful benefit enhancements for the most vulnerable.
I will close my remarks with some principles for reform. First, Social Security provides modest benefits that are very important to those who receive them. The average Social Security retiree benefit last year was approximately $14,800. Seniors rely heavily on their benefits. Two‑thirds of beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their income, and one‑third rely on it for almost all of their income. Among seniors of color, 55 percent of Hispanics, 49 percent of African‑Americans, and 42 percent of Asians rely on Social Security for almost all of their income.
Low‑income workers face inadequate benefits. Social Security replaces only 40 percent of prior earnings for low‑income workers who retire at age 62. Pension coverage is getting weaker. Pension coverage among private sector workers has fallen from 50 percent in 1979 to 42 percent now. American men have lost the most ground over this time period.
The quality of pension coverage has also declined. Risky, inadequate 401(k)‑style plans have replaced more secure defined benefit plans, and Americans are not saving enough in their 401(k)s. More and more, the only stable form of retirement income that most people can count on is Social Security. Given all of this, our Nation should not reduce Social Security benefits. Yet many ideas are being proposed to cut Social Security benefits. I will talk about two of these harmful proposals.
First, the partial price indexing option deeply cuts benefits for seniors with already modest income. Under one PPI plan, the average monthly benefit would fall from $1,250 to less than $900 per month. Second, increasing the retirement age or enacting longevity indexing also cuts benefits for all workers, including those with the lowest incomes. Each 1‑year increase in the statutory retirement age is equivalent to a benefit cut of approximately 7 percent.
The most important problem with these proposed benefit cuts is that vulnerable people will be pushed into greater poverty and hunger. NCLR held six town halls with Latino seniors in 2011 to hear their views on Social Security’s future. One senior in Los Angeles, who spoke from his wheelchair, said he lives alone on $750 per month, and he cannot afford to buy food after paying for rent and other bills. He relies on local food banks to survive. People like him cannot afford further reductions to their already inadequate benefits. Basic living expenses do not decline simply because the overall population is living longer.
My third major point is that we do need benefit enhancements for the lowest income workers, but these need to be meaningful. Benefit increases that are only proposed to lessen the impact of a benefit cut do not constitute a benefit improvement. Neither does structuring a benefit improvement so that few people will qualify.
Lastly, I would offer a few principles to keep in mind as you approach reform. First, maintain what works with Social Security. For example, don’t make it a means‑tested program, and keep it universal. Second, include revenue as part of the solution to get to long‑term solvency. Americans will support this, as many surveys show. Revenue increases can make harmful benefit cuts unnecessary. Third, truly improve benefits so that low‑income workers can retire with benefits that keep them out of poverty and protect low and moderate income people from any benefit cuts. Thank you. I am happy to answer any questions.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you.
[The statement of Ms. Miranda follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Fuerst, you are welcome here and please go ahead.
STATEMENT OF DONALD FUERST, SENIOR PENSION FELLOW, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ACTUARIES
Mr. Fuerst. Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Becerra, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to assist in your examination of bipartisan proposals to adjust Social Security benefits. I am here on behalf of the American Academy of Actuaries, where I am the Senior Pension Fellow. The Academy is the nonpartisan association representing all actuaries in the United States on public policy issues. My statement will focus on retirement age.
Americans are living longer. Of particular relevance to Social Security, the life expectancy of the elderly is increasing. A longer life creates numerous benefits for individuals but brings with it an expensive challenge ‑‑ how to provide financial security for our seniors. Simply put, the longer someone lives, the more benefits Social Security must pay. Since 1940, the life expectancy of a 65‑year‑old has increased 6 years for both males and females, and we expect this trend to continue.
An increase in longevity among the elderly, without a corresponding change in the full retirement age, actually constitutes an increase in lifetime benefits. Although the monthly amount a retiree receives is unchanged, the number of payments increases with longer life spans.
Raising the full retirement age addresses Social Security’s long‑range financial problems while responding to changing demographic factors. In particular, raising the full retirement age will compensate for increases in longevity, preserve the current benefit formula, increase labor force participation, and preserve disability benefits.
The Academy supports retirement age changes but does not advocate a specific proposal. An increase in the retirement age should not be the sole solution to the imbalance in the system. Potential methods for increasing the full retirement age include both fixed schedule and indexing methods. The Simpson‑Bowles report includes a proposal to index both full and early retirement ages to increases in longevity, and a hardship exemption for workers who cannot continue working past age 62 but do not qualify for disability benefits.
The Bipartisan Policy Center proposed adjusting benefits for longevity by decreasing the formula as people live longer. This method could produce the same benefit amounts as a change in the full retirement age. However, it does not deliver the same message to American workers as an increased retirement age, which signals workers that they can and should continue in the labor force.
We recognize that there are obstacles to raising the full retirement age. This would have a disproportionate effect on low‑wage workers because longevity increases are not uniform across all demographic groups. Additionally, jobs may not be readily available for all older workers. But there are targeted policy options that might address these problems, including liberalizing disability benefits for older workers, revising the early retirement factors to provide a lesser reduction on benefits below the first bend point, enhanced job training and incentives for employers to hire and retain older workers.
Raising the early eligibility age beyond 62 should also be considered to encourage individuals to work longer, to help avoid the problem of inadequate benefits caused by early retirement reduction. This would not significantly change Social Security’s financial position. Forty‑four percent of workers receive benefits at age 62, the most popular age for electing benefits, despite the larger benefits that are available at later ages. Retaining age 62 as the early retirement eligibility, or allowing partial benefits at age 62 is likely to result in many people selecting commencement at this early age, with a smaller benefit which may prove to be inadequate.
Estimates show that the proportion of jobs that are physically demanding has shrunk to less than 8 percent of our workforce, and less than 20 percent of workers who retire early do so for health reasons. The problems of these groups could be addressed by other programs, and Social Security benefits could be designed to provide adequate lifetime income at appropriate ages.
In closing, I again thank the subcommittee for this opportunity. Addressing Social Security’s solvency now permits more modest changes that Congress could phase in over many years. This would ensure that the system will continue to provide retirement security for generations to come. Thank you.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Fuerst follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Steuerle, welcome again. Please go ahead.
STATEMENT OF C. EUGENE STEUERLE, PH.D., INSTITUTE FELLOW, URBAN INSTITUTE
Mr. Steuerle. Chairman Johnson, members of the committee, subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you. In my testimony, I provide a fairly lengthy set of proposals that follow principles that I believe apply to Social Security, but I don’t want to spend my brief 5 minutes here talking about them so much as to make a pitch with you that we want to do Social Security benefit reform, that is the subject of this hearing, regardless of the level of taxes you collect, regardless of the imbalances of the system, and that is because Social Security has increasingly failed to target its money towards, I think, needs that we would all agree are most important or even meet various principles such as equal justice under the law.
So let me give you an example just in terms of lifetime benefits. A newly retiring average wage couple today will receive about $580,000 in Social Security benefits. That is what they would need in a bank account if it was to earn, which it won’t earn today, but it would earn about 2 percent in real interest rates. And if you add in Medicare, they are scheduled to get about $1 million in Social Security and Medicare benefits. That largely derives from the large number of years of benefits that are paid.
But even if we thought that that was a level we had to maintain, mind you that in the budget as a whole, we are now cutting benefits in other programs for children, we are cutting programs for middle‑income families, but in Social Security and Medicare, every year we bump up these lifetime benefits by about $20,000, so that if we take a couple retiring, say a couple that is in their 40s today, they are scheduled to get about $1.4 million in the Social Security and Medicare benefits versus the $1 million for the couple retiring today. That is where all the growth in government is going, even while we derail almost everything else that government is about.
Now, there are other problems in Social Security. Social Security has really morphed into a middle‑age retirement system. Typical couples now retire for close to three decades in terms of getting benefits, that is the longer living of the two. If people are retired today for the same number of years as they did when physical demands of work were larger, that is, the retirement age of 68 that they retired on average in 1940, today they would be retiring at about age 76.
Meanwhile, all this pushing of more and more benefits to younger and younger ages relative to death means that fewer benefits, a smaller and smaller share of benefits are going to people who are truly old, which is the purpose of the program, and so soon close to one‑third of adults will be on Social Security, retiring on average for about one‑third of their adult lives.
Now, Social Security did do a good job in reducing poverty in its early years, but in recent years, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars more every year, it has only made very modest progress on this front. Meanwhile, in the midst of a recession, when we are worried about the nonemployment rate going up, the Social Security system encourages an increase in this nonemployment rate at the very time when our older members of our society are perhaps the most underused source of human capital in our economy and a group of people that we should be encouraging to work.
And then, finally, along this long list of failures, the failure to provide equal justice just permeates the system. It discriminates against single heads of households, often abandoned mothers, it discriminates against spouses with relatively low earnings, it discriminates against those who bear their children before age 40, which is when most people bear their children, it discriminates against long‑term workers and many, many others for which I provide a detail.
And then finally, as a couple other members of this panel have mentioned, the private retirement system also needs addressing because it leaves most elderly households very vulnerable.
Unfortunately, the Social Security debate has largely preceded on the basis of being for the box or against the box. We have to sort of be for Social Security or against Social Security. The contents of the box, as I say, deserve scrutiny regardless of the size of the system overall.
So how might one break through this stalemate in a political way? While I applaud the efforts of the Simpson‑Bowles Commission and the Bipartisan Policy Commission, I think we can go much further if we start with a basic set of principles and we just see where they lead us. Now some changes, by the way, would lead to an increase in benefits. Some changes might lead to a decrease in benefits, but we don’t want to decide them one at a time. We want to see how the aggregate pulls together. So inevitably balancing my way should proceed in the following order.
So first consider reforms aimed at meeting Social Security’s primary purposes, let’s provide greater protections for those who are truly needy and for those who are truly old, let’s support the work and saving base that is necessary to undergird the system and provide the taxes we need, that means we have to encourage work, and let’s provide more equal justice for those suffering needless discrimination in the system. So some of the changes cost money, some raise money, but we shouldn’t address them one at a time. After we do these changes, then we should come in and adjust minimum benefits even further, I have some suggestions in, adjust the rate schedules, adjust the indexing of benefits, so then we hit our targets for distribution and our targets for final cost.
Now, if you do what I say, we could work together across the aisle to fix up the system for the bottom half of the distribution and save if you want to that fight over whether higher income taxpayers are going to pay more taxes or if they are going to get reduced benefits, which is where the fight really leads.
So my testimony, as I say, provides a detailed way of engaging this type of reform process. It is largely the logic that I followed when I served as economic coordinator of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. I get called to testify all the time on how did we get this to work? Well, we started off to see where our principles led us, then we came back in, then we came back in and adjusted things like rate schedules, minimum benefits, things like that, to hit our distributional and revenue targets. It is the same type of suggestion I made to the Simpson‑Bowles Commission on taxes.
Chairman Johnson. Your time has expired, can you close?
Mr. Steuerle. That is the end of my recommendations. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The statement of Mr. Steuerle follows:]
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Lorenzen, thank you for braving the traffic in Washington today. I had the same problem, so I understand it. Thank you, you are recognized.
STATEMENT OF ED LORENZEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH PROJECT, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET
Mr. Lorenzen. Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, it is a pleasure to be before you again to talk about the recommendations of the final report of the Simpson‑Bowles Commission regarding Social Security, particularly those regarding benefit formula and retirement age. I would also like to associate myself with all the comments of Mr. Steuerle, whose advice and writings had a major impact on the work of the Commission, even if we were not as aggressive as he would like.
The executive order that created the Fiscal Commission charged the Commission with two mandates, one to identify policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term, but also to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long term. Commission members had differences of opinion of the role of Social Security in the medium‑term fiscal outlook, but there was a general consensus among Commission members that meeting the mandate of improving the long‑term fiscal sustainability required looking at the Social Security system and making the Social Security program sustainably solvent.
Therefore, the recommendations in that count, Social Security reform in meeting deficit reduction in the near term but were important for long‑term recommendations. In the report, we outlined the approach the Commission took this way: To save Social Security for the long haul, all of us must do our part. The most fortunate will have to contribute the most by taking lower benefits than scheduled and paying more in payroll taxes. Middle‑income earners who are able to work will need to do so a little longer. At the same time, Social Security must do more to help reduce poverty among the very poor and the very old who need help the most.
The provisions in the Commission’s report directly affecting benefits, including changes in the benefit formula, retirement age, and cost of living adjustments, among other changes were responsible for approximately 60 percent of the savings over 75 years, and the provisions related to revenues, increasing the taxable maximum faster than current law and requiring State and local workers to pay into the system were responsible for approximately 40 percent of the savings over 75 years, but if you look in the 75th year, the net increase in revenues would be ‑‑ just 22 percent of the shortfall in the 75th year, and that is why we felt it was necessary to include changes in the benefit formula in the retirement age to make the program sustainably solvent.
So the first area of benefit changes we recommended were gradually moving to a more progressive benefit formula, which would slow the benefit growth relative to the current law, particularly for workers with incomes above the median. Specifically, the plan would gradually phase in changes and replacement rates of 90, 32, and 15 percent under current law to 90, 30, 10, and 5 percent by 2050, phased in over a 30‑year period. The current 32 percent bracket would be split at the median income level and ultimately reduced to 30 percent, so there would be only a very modest change in the benefit formula for workers with incomes below the median level.
Future retirees would receive higher benefits than can be provided under current law for most seniors, except for the highest earning workers. Because the bend point factors would continue to be wage indexed, full benefits would continue to grow faster than inflation for nearly all beneficiaries and grow nearly as fast as wages for those in the bottom 50 percent of income distribution.
One of the Commission’s key principles was that Social Security must ensure the program will meet its basic mission to prevent people who can no longer work from falling into poverty. In order to achieve this goal, the Commission recommended creating a new minimum benefit, which would provide stronger poverty protections than current law, and reduce poverty among seniors relative both to current law scheduled benefits and payable benefits.
The minimum benefit would provide a full career minimum wage worker with a benefit equal to 125 percent of poverty, and the minimum benefit would then be indexed to wages, which would provide substantially stronger poverty protection over time.
Although the plan in the final report of the Commission would provide substantially higher benefits for most low‑income workers, we did find that there were unintended consequences with a slight reduction in median benefit for workers in the bottom quintile, and the Commission cochairs committed to the members of the Commission to identifying changes to address that concern, and we spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years looking at ways to tweak the minimum benefit and the benefit formula in order to do so.
I have outlined those changes in my testimony, and I would say that with those changes, we would have substantially stronger poverty protections than current law, and relative to payable benefits would have 50 percent reduction in poverty and relative to scheduled benefits a 10 percent reduction. One of the key lessons I also learned in this process was the importance of looking at workers with intermittent work histories who often have ‑‑ were most likely to fall short of the adequate benefits and not always protected by minimum benefit provisions, but in doing so, it is important to distinguish between those who truly are low‑income workers and those who simply look like they are a low‑income worker based on the Social Security income calculations, but in fact, were relatively affluent because they had a great deal of earnings over their lifetime that were not covered by Social Security for working abroad, uncovered employment, and the like.
Chairman Johnson. Can you close it down?
Mr. Lorenzen. Certainly. Finally, we had increases in the retirement age, we indexed the retirement age to longevity. Both the early retirement age and the normal retirement age under the current projections would be growing by 1 month every 2 years. However, it is ‑‑ would actually be based off the increases in longevity, therefore if longevity is growing faster than currently projected, the age would increase more rapidly, but conversely if the longevity grows more slowly, the retirement age would grow less aggressively.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Lorenzen follows:]
Chairman Johnson. We are going to do something a little different here. I appreciate the testimony of all of you, and I am going to ask you this question: How soon should we act to fix Social Security? I would like each one of you to tell me. Mr. Lorenzen?
Mr. Lorenzen. I would say that the sooner that Congress can act, it would be better. I can say this as someone who has been working on Social Security reform for much longer than I like to admit, that at each successive time, I have gone through the process of looking at the options of what you have to do on benefits and on revenues and the level of benefits you can provide at a certain level of taxes, that the choices become substantially more difficult each time I have gone through this process.
Chairman Johnson. The question is how soon should we start?
Mr. Lorenzen. And so, I think it needs to be starting soon. I think we have already waited too long.
Chairman Johnson. Okay. Mr. Hoagland?
Mr. Hoagland. You should start now, I agree that you should not hold up on this exercise.
Chairman Johnson. Mr. Fichtner.
Mr. Fichtner. Congressman, 10 years ago. In some ways we are already too late. They are saying act now. We should have done this a long time ago. I used to go around saying that we could change benefits and hold current retirees harmless, we are getting closer to not being able to do that, so we are late, but definitely now.
Chairman Johnson. I agree with you. I have been on this committee a long time myself and, you know, we can work. This is one thing we can work.
Mr. Thompson. Look at me, I just got on this subcommittee.
Chairman Johnson. Well, do you want to wait a while? Ms. Miranda?
Ms. Miranda. The sooner the better.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you. Mr. Fuerst?
Mr. Fuerst. Acting sooner enables more options of a less drastic nature and allows changes to be phased in gradually. The 113th Congress should act to implement sustainable solvency. So I will give you to the end of next year.
Chairman Johnson. How about the end of this year?
Mr. Fuerst. That would be even better.
Chairman Johnson. We are working on it, let me tell you. Mr. Becerra and I have been working on it a long time together, and I think I agree with you. Mr. Steuerle?
Mr. Steuerle. Mr. Chairman, it is yesterday. Every year we wait, we put more and more of the burden on the young, and we who are a little bit older bear less and less of the burden, and that is simply unfair.
Chairman Johnson. Yeah, I know. You and I are worried about it, aren’t we?
Mr. Steuerle. Yes, I think you and I should pay ‑‑ I mean, it is hard to adjust ‑‑ everybody keeps saying we shouldn’t pay any of the costs, but in point of fact, I think we should bear some of it, too.
Chairman Johnson. You know, in your testimony, Mr. Steuerle, you say Social Security was designed for a different era. I agree. What are the impacts of putting close to a third of all adults on Social Security and the impact of the current law retirement age on workers, beneficiaries, and the economy?
Mr. Steuerle. Well, it simply means with a smaller work base to support the system, no matter what tax rate we agree upon, whether it is a higher rate or a lower rate, with fewer workers, we have got less money coming into the system, so in point of fact, although we are talking about benefit adjustments today, to the extent we can encourage more work through changes in the retirement age, through adjustments, backloading the system so a few more benefits are paid at old age, if we encourage work, we get more revenues at any tax rate. And, by the way, I should comment at the same time that given that our economy is now in a state of still high unemployment, we should really be looking at the nonemployment rate, and one of the major factors on the nonemployment rate is the encouragement of older people to retire.
Chairman Johnson. Well, thank you for your comments, all of you. I appreciate your testimony. Is Xavier coming back?
Mr. Doggett. He is coming back eventually, but he has a conflicting meeting.
Chairman Johnson. Okay. Then Mr. Doggett, I am going to recognize you for 5 minutes.
Mr. Doggett. Well, thank you very much. Dr. Steuerle, I understand your testimony to be that whatever the committee might recommend on revenue changes, there must be some benefit changes?
Mr. Steuerle. [Nonverbal response.]
Mr. Doggett. Is the converse also true? Because I understood that to be Mr. Hoagland’s findings of the Bipartisan Policy Committee and also on the Bowles‑Simpson, that it is impossible to resolve this problem equitably unless there are additional revenues?
Mr. Steuerle. Well, personally I do support additional revenues for the system. I do have a problem, however, which goes beyond the Social Security issue is that for the most part, if I am going to raise additional revenues, particularly if I am going to raise additional revenues on higher income people, I don’t want that money to keep going for these elderly programs, they are absorbing all of the growth in government. So I have this dilemma. While I think revenues is part of our broader budgetary issues, I don’t know that I want to keep devoting additional taxes and revenues to supporting elderly programs at the cost of programs for younger people.
So I, therefore, confine the extent to which I would have tax increases in Social Security, which is not the same thing as the extent to which I would confine tax increases outside of Social Security.
Mr. Doggett. So you are basically agreeing with the Simpson‑Bowles and the bipartisan policy recommendations that we will not get our national debt in shape unless we have some additional revenues to go along with this, but you don’t necessarily support additional revenues for Social Security specifically?
Mr. Steuerle. I do support some additional revenues for Social Security. I actually ‑‑ like the Commission’s, I would bump up the taxable maximum back up to approximately 90 percent of wages, so I do actually support that type of change.
Mr. Doggett. I got the impression from your testimony that to some extent, looking at Social Security changes is an all‑or‑nothing proposition, that there has to be broad comprehensive change along the lines of your policy objectives, not doing it a single item at a time, such as cost of living or retirement age. Is that your position?
Mr. Steuerle. Yes, Mr. Doggett. Let me give you an example with the retirement age. The simple fact that we all get now about, say, 6 more years of benefits than ‑‑ that is actually we take about 11 or 12 because we retire earlier, but if we didn’t retire earlier, we get about 6 or 7 more years of benefits. That has inured mainly to the benefit of higher income people because we get a higher benefit to begin with, and in fact, if I don’t live to 62, I don’t get anything out of all those additional years of benefits, and if I am disabled I don’t get anything, so a lot of, most of the benefits from not indexing the retirement age over its history has inured to the benefit of higher income people. So if you cut back on that, we still have to worry about other distributional effects. You know, as I say, for people who are disabled, for people who don’t make it to 62, for people who have trouble working, we have to worry about that. But not adjusting the retirement age is like throwing the money off the roof in a poor area of the city and hoping some of the poor get it. It is just not very target effective.
So, yes, I would increase the retirement age and then I would try to come back into other provisions like minimum benefits and other things to make a system that, in my view, should be more progressive than it was. I think the system is less progressive than people think it is because it has a lot of regressive features that people didn’t pay attention to in the beginning, and so my goal is to make the system more progressive, better at the bottom, say the bottom half of the distribution, recognizing that because it is out of balance, people at the top are either going to have to take benefit cuts or tax increases, one or the other, to pay for it.
Mr. Doggett. Ms. Miranda, what do you think the effect of the changes you have heard the other witnesses testify that they feel must be made in Social Security will have on working families?
The changes that you have heard recommended, they have indicated they want to compensate for some of those changes with other adjustments and that the current program, they believe, does not adequately address the needs of poorer retirees. What is your reaction to their recommendations?
Ms. Miranda. Well, we agree that the system does not adequate ‑‑ provide adequate benefits for low‑income retirees and others. However ‑‑ and we are very much in favor of a lot of the ideas to improve benefits for the low income. However, these ideas are often coupled with a benefit cut, so there is no net improvement for low income. I did the math for Hispanic men and women. Hispanic women have the lowest average Social Security benefit for any gender or race or ethnicity, so their average benefit is below the poverty line. It is $10,438. And I did do the math on the chained CPI plus the age bump‑up, and it is still a loss. It is still about a 1‑1/2 percent loss to these low‑income women already.
So there is no net gain from doing it if you couple it with a benefit cut. So we are in favor of things like the bump‑up for the age, but we are not in favor of it being coupled with a cut. So we like some of those ideas. However, I would like to say with the special minimum benefit, I have also looked into it, including Dr. Steuerle’s research from the Urban Institute, and you see that low‑income people, the lowest income people have the shortest career histories in covered earnings, so something like 80 to 95 percent of low‑income workers would not meet the requirements to get the full special minimum benefit. The requirement is 30 years in covered earnings, and only something like 3 to, at the most, 20 percent of low‑income workers would meet that requirement. So you are excluding almost everybody. It is practically the null set. So I don’t know. I mean, every proposal seems to have that in there, and it doesn’t do much good ‑‑
Chairman Johnson. We have already heard your testimony, and his time has expired.
Ms. Miranda. Oh, sorry.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you very much.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you, Lloyd. Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank all the witnesses and thank you for all your testimony. It is interesting because prior to coming to Congress I was a CPA and was brought into businesses in many cases that were failing, and when you looked at their failures, it was many times the owners would say, well, you know, we were doing fine, and we shouldn’t touch anything, and we shouldn’t have done anything, and what they really ignored was the trend in the future, and so I am appreciative that we are looking at the trends in the future here because that is the key. We can sit and just bury our head, but the trends are showing that we have got some problems.
Mr. Steuerle, you made a comment where there is two sides, you are either for the box or against the box. It is kind of interesting because I would agree that some people when you say something, they would say you are against the box or you are for the box. I think everybody up here is making sure that Social Security is solvent for the future. I know as a father of three children, I want to make sure that the benefits are available to them, too.
So when I look at things, I try and look at systemic issues, and I would like to ask ‑‑ in reading your testimony, I see a couple things that have been brought out of your testimony, several of you. The system does not encourage savings, our current system, and the other thing is the system encourages retirement before the full retirement age.
Those seem to be two real systemic problems within the current system which aren’t benefits, aren’t revenue raisers, aren’t any of those. These are actual systemic problems that ‑‑ you know, I would like Mr. Steuerle or Mr. Fichtner if you could address, what are some of the ways Congress, and even the Social Security Administration can incentivize savings and also we can encourage older Americans to remain in the workforce? So I start with Mr. Steuerle.
Mr. Steuerle. I have a number of suggestions in my testimony. I won’t go into all the details, but the basic suggestions are to bump up the retirement age. As it actually turns out, I would also increase the early retirement age because it actually turns out that the people who are hurt the worst are the lower income people who can work but don’t, that is their proportional loss in income over their retirement is actually worse than it is for higher income people who might have capital income on their side. And then, as I say, I would try to make a lot of other adjustments to make sure that that net change is more progressive. I would try to backload benefits more, that is to the extent we can make it more of an old age system rather than a system that is really a middle age retirement system, that is going to encourage work by not providing so much in the way of benefits up front. I would also offer people partial retirement options that Social Security doesn’t offer, so that people don’t have to think it is an all‑or‑nothing choice, which many of them do.
On the savings front, I have suggested a number of times that we follow Britain’s example when they did Social Security reform, and we back up Social Security reform with a private pension reform that is aimed, by the way, at providing substantial coverage for the vast majority of people who get very little in private retirement benefits.
Mr. Renacci. Before I move to Mr. Fichtner, I would just ask you this question, instead of raising the age, how about changing the system? I have friends back home that are retiring because it makes no sense for them; if they work longer, they don’t get any additional benefit, and at the same time, there is no incentive to continue to work because they get their retirement benefits cut if they do, and they can’t work and get those benefits.
Mr. Steuerle. The current system has something called an earnings test, which technically doesn’t reduce benefits, but people think of as a huge tax rate on their benefits. Because technically what happens when those benefits get reduced, Social Security gives them an actuarial adjustment for higher benefits later. I want to make that explicit, they recognize by working longer that they could make that work to their advantage in a much more explicit way. But also the suggestion I made, and I think Mr. Fichtner made, to actually drop this notion of only counting 35 years of work means if I work more than 35 years, I work past 62, that can also add to my benefits. So I make a number of adjustments along those lines.
Mr. Renacci. Mr. Fichtner.
Mr. Fichtner. Thank you for the question, Congressman. I realize your time is short, so I will second everything that Dr. Steuerle said, and then sort of add what can the Social Security Administration do to help encourage people to maybe delay claiming. Because those who take early retirement basically are behind, and the monthly benefit is lower than they would otherwise be when they get into their 80s or 90s, then behind for the rest of their lives. Part of it is financial literacy, which both of the Commission plans actually endorse, which we did show the benefits and the risks and costs of claiming early versus claiming later. And I think we should look at raising the early retirement age.
Right now, as we said, 40 percent take it at 62, 70 percent are taking it before normal retirement age. That means that is actually increasing poverty in older ages. If we increased it, but did like a hardship benefit or a special minimum benefit bump up, that would keep lower people out of poverty, but still give the incentive for those who continue to work.
Mr. Renacci. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Chairman Johnson. Thank you. Mr. Tiberi, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Tiberi. Thank you. Thank you all. Great testimony. I got to tell you this should be easier to get done than it is after listening to you all. But let me tell you just a couple stories. I was at a senior center in my district 10 years ago. I was supposed to give a congressional update. And there were seniors there from 62 to in the 90s. Before I could even get a word out about my congressional update, this lady in the back of the room wanted to know why I was on the Bush privatization of Social Security. And I answered there was not a piece of legislation yet, but we have to fix Social Security, maybe not for you all, but for your kids and certainly your grandkids.
Another lady said, “My grandkids are spoiled. Don’t touch Social Security, because I paid into it just like I paid into Medicare.” I have noticed over the last 10 years, and I think it has to do with organizations like yours and yours, that seniors are tending to understand more that they didn’t pay into Medicare every benefit they are getting out. That is been a real struggle, by the way, a real struggle.
So I think education is the key. And you talked about the progressivity. Dead on. But the lack of education even among some Members is striking to me. I have a senior population who still believes that we should fix the notch years, right? The notch years. And I try to tell them, you know, you got a better deal than my dad, who is going to be 80. And my dad retired at 65. You know, maybe I should be mad that somebody here changed the retirement age and requires me to retire at 67. But I got to tell you, my sister, who is in her 30s, doesn’t even think that even matters because she doesn’t believe she is going to get Social Security. And to say, and some in this town say, well, this isn’t a problem, they should go look at their Social Security benefit package if they are under 50.
Here is my question to you: How do we get just Members of Congress to understand the severity of the problem in the system? Because I think you are absolutely right, Mr. Steuerle, and Mr. Fuerst, you are on the same page, we can’t fix these systems that benefit us if we get there by raising more revenue to put into those systems, because it is tragic what we are doing to little girls and little boys who are trying to get an education. My parents were immigrants. They never had great jobs. They are now concerned about their grandkids.
So this shouldn’t be about CEOs and NBA basketball players and them paying their fair share. This should be about fundamentally fixing two vitally important programs for the future. And you have all made some really great suggestions. But the politics of this aren’t quite there yet. Mr. Lorenzen.
Mr. Lorenzen. I want to say a couple of things. First, I think it is important to talk not only about the importance that those programs are strong for future generations, for future children and my soon‑to‑be‑born child, but also to talk about what it means for the resources for other priorities that Dr. Steuerle was talking about, that if tax revenues are going to those programs, those are tax revenues that are not available for other priorities. I think that is an equally important point to remind people.
And I would just use this opportunity to make a shameless plug. The Committee for Responsible Federal Budget, which hosts the Moment of Truth Project, will be coming out shortly with The Reformer, which will be an interactive online tool that will allow people to look at the different options for changing benefits and revenues. And you will see what it means over 75 years and the period, and so people can see the choices and trade‑offs.
Mr. Tiberi. And let me tell you what I support. I had a debate with a smart guy who argued with me that taking it at 62 was better because life expectancy is longer now. So there are smart people who do that. But I got to tell you, in this town if I say I am for fixing Social Security and Medicare, somebody might say, well ‑‑ someone has said, well, it is because you want to do that, you want to cut benefits, you want to hurt the program. Let me tell you, I mean, I would like to cut the retirement age to 55, you know, as a selfish person. That is not what this is about. I don’t want to cut anybody’s benefits. I want to make sure that people who, like my mom and dad, who depend on this program, get it, and that we don’t rob future generations to get there. So Mr. Steuerle, any final comments on the politics of this?
Mr. Steuerle. Yes, I don’t know what else we can do here. I am actually, and every person at this table, we all work on trying to give you data you can use. If you look, for instance, at the last graph in my testimony, that is the one I use when people want to argue the trust fund balances. Because it basically shows that when you get to about 2035, we are going to be paying maybe 30 percent more than we got in the way of revenues. So regardless of what you think about the trust funds, show them that type of data. I do lifetime value of and benefits and taxes. I keep pointing out that the package of benefits in Social Security and Medicare is now approaching $1 million. When I say that to people, they don’t say, gee, it has got to be higher, you know, once they know the real numbers. And then finally on the retirement age, one I strongly suggest, and Mr. Lorenzen and I have talked about this, in their Commission they debated how to announce it in terms of the increase in the retirement age, this is the normal retirement age, but if you look at their package, they actually keep giving more and more years ‑‑ which I would not do by the way ‑‑ keep giving more and more years of benefits to people as they live longer, just less than they get now. If you go to the public and say should it be a priority of Social Security to continually provide more years of benefits to people or should we have other priorities, they will usually accept ‑‑ they won’t accept that as an option. And yet that is the system we have. So that is different than saying you are increasing the retirement age.
Mr. Tiberi. Thank you.
Chairman Johnson. I want to thank each of you for being here. And we appreciate your testimony. We have got votes on the floor. And I don’t want to try to hold you during that time. We are adjourning today for Memorial Day. How about that? So I want to thank each and every one of you for being here, and thank our panel for their questions, and thank you, Lloyd. So we will stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 10:33 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
Questions For The Record
Public Submission For The Record