Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the Social Security 2100 Act
(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning and thank you to our witnesses and guests for joining us for today’s hearing on, “The Social Security 2100 Act.”
Retirement income is often referred to as a three-legged stool: Social Security, employer-sponsored pensions, and personal savings.
I’m proud the Ways and Means Committee has been hard at work this year to ensure that Americans can retire with security and dignity.
In May, the House passed the SECURE Act, which helps middle-class families save for retirement and makes it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans to their workers. And just yesterday, the House passed the Butch Lewis Act, to address the multiemployer pension crisis facing millions of Americans.
Today, we turn to the very foundation of our retirement system: Social Security. For the 64 million Americans who receive benefits, Social Security is more than just a check in the mail. It is rock-solid security. It allows them to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work. Americans know they have contributed throughout their working years and can count on the benefits they have earned.
People often think of Social Security as retirement, but it is much more than that. It provides essential disability and life insurance to younger Americans, and insures both workers and their families.
Almost three million children are receiving benefits because their parent has died, become severely disabled, or retired. And let me tell you, from my own personal experience, I know about the kinds of unforeseen challenges that Social Security was designed to help.
Social Security benefits are modest, averaging about $17,000 a year for retirees. Yet they are the primary source of income to most beneficiaries. For six out of every 10 seniors, Social Security provides the majority of their income. And for almost one in three seniors, Social Security provides all or nearly all of their income.
Social Security is likely to be even more important for the retirement of millennials and future generations, who are increasingly squeezed by stagnating wages, disappearing pensions, and so many other financial pressures. And few of today’s workers have savings to survive on if they experience a life-changing disability.
It is fitting to note that tomorrow is the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is important to recognize Social Security’s role in supporting economic security and community living for people with disabilities.
For all its strengths, Social Security also faces some challenges. It is fully funded for the near-term, but faces a modest shortfall over the long term. Congress must act before 2035 to prevent benefit cuts and ensure that all workers get the full benefits they are counting on. Congress has never allowed these kinds of cuts to occur, and it certainly is not going to happen on my watch.
In addition, many seniors struggle to make ends meet even with Social Security, and millions of today’s hardworking families face a very uncertain retirement. We need to think about enhancing benefits to make them more adequate.
The bill we are discussing today, the Social Security 2100 Act, takes on these challenges and more than meets them. I commend my colleague, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson, for his leadership on this bill and on the Subcommittee.
People who have worked hard and contributed all their lives should retire to a strong Social Security system that pays them reliable and adequate benefits. We stand with the American public. They are very clear: Americans do not want cuts in their Social Security. Social Security works, and Americans know it.
I often hear from constituents who wonder if Social Security will still be there for them when they need it. I’m sure my colleagues on both sides of the aisle hear this question too. And our constituents want us to strengthen it, not cut it.
And that’s what the Social Security 2100 Act does. It is fully paid for. It asks the most fortunate among us to pay their fair share. And it asks everyone to pay slightly higher premiums so that Social Security can remain strong.
Now, you may hear some on the other side of the aisle complain about that premium increase, or about asking the most well off among us to pay their fair share. They may say they want to “reform” Social Security instead.
But when Republicans say they want to “reform” Social Security, what they are actually talking about is cuts in Social Security benefits, such as raising the retirement age and other benefit cuts. Remember, the last time they made a serious effort to “reform” Social Security -- by privatizing it -- their plan would have cut Social Security’s guaranteed benefits substantially to pay for the accounts.
The bill before us has no cuts in benefits. I repeat: it ensures everyone receives their full benefits, with no cuts.
Before I turn to the Ranking Member for his opening, I want to comment on a related topic. In my state, and a number of others, we have a longstanding problem for police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public servants who have paid into Social Security for part of their careers and into a separate state or local government pension plan for part of their careers. I am working on legislation to fix this problem, called the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP. We are diligently working on this issue and are currently working out some numbers. Action on the WEP is long overdue, and I look forward to introducing my bill soon and making further progress this fall.
Thank you again to my colleague Chairman Larson for his leadership with the Social Security 2100 Act. And with that I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady, for an opening statement.