The result was a balanced proposal (Securing Our Financial Future), released last summer that would implement a series of changes gradually to create a sustainably solvent system, all while avoiding the cuts that the president has pledged to oppose. Half of the improvement comes from slowing down the growth of benefits for the better off, including slowly increasing the retirement age and using a more accurate measurement of inflation.
But also very importantly, our proposal increases minimum benefits for the lowest income retirees. That increase combined with enhancements to widow/widowers benefits would reduce elderly poverty by 30 percent in 20 years and by 50 percent in 40 years (from 9 percent to less than 5 percent) according to modeling from the Urban Institute for the commission.
The other half of the improvement to program finances is revenue increases, including gradually raising the taxable maximum and increasing joint employer/employee FICA taxes by 1 percent over a 10-year period.
These proposals together offer a blueprint for a bipartisan solution to a problem that has eluded policymakers for decades.
But Social Security alone is not enough for a secure retirement, especially as almost half of American workers are not participating in a workplace retirement plan. To help remedy this situation and increase savings in America, we recommend pooled, nationwide Retirement Security Plans for companies with less than 500 employees.
Small employers could automatically enroll their employees (who could opt out) in a plan run by a well-vetted sponsor. That would relieve small businesses of the costly burden of setting up their own 401(k) and allow them to transfer the legal liability to the sponsor of the pooled plan.
After these streamlined plans are up and running, we would require all employers with at least 50 employees to offer some form of retirement option for their employees. Importantly, these proposals would dramatically close the coverage gap and, once phased in, they would increase average savings among middle- and lower-income workers by 50 percent, according to the commission's research. That would be great for the workers and the economy.
Our proposals are about people and politics, but there is some very important math. By creating a sustainably solvent Social Security system, we plug an $11.4 trillion, 75-year, net-present-value hole. Even with our gradual phase-in, the first 10-year U.S. budget deficit is reduced by $1 trillion and the savings compound every decade thereafter. We massively "cut" the deficit while actually increasing benefits for lower-income workers.
As Mick Mulvaney, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, has suggested, it is time to address Social Security. Our bipartisan approach is a good starting framework for President Trump and Congress to avoid the cuts that the president has rightfully opposed and to protect lower-income American workers.
Commentary by James B. Lockhart III, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings. He is a former principal deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the Social Security Administration and served in the George H.W. Bush administration as Executive Director (CEO) of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.