- The Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2035 if nothing is done. At that time, only 80% of benefits will be payable.
- A proposed fix has gotten the attention of Republicans, including White House advisor Ivanka Trump and Sen. Susan Collins.
- Supporters of Social Security reform are hoping that if the bill doesn't advance, it will become a campaign issue.
If nothing is done to protect Social Security benefits, its reserves will be depleted in 2035.
At that time, the system will only be able to pay 80% of benefits.
Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., the ranking member of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Social Security, has a plan aimed at correcting that for the rest of this century. Larson has worked on Social Security reform for the majority of his 20 years in Congress.
His latest proposal — the Social Security 2100 Act — has 204 co-sponsors. It also has the backing of industry groups including the AFL-CIO, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and Social Security Works.
The bill would provide a boost for beneficiaries equal to 2% of the average benefit, set the minimum benefit at 25% above the poverty line and change the way the annual cost-of-living adjustment is calculated.
The plan also would raise the limits on non-Social Security income before benefits begin to be taxed. The new caps would go to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples, up from the current $25,000 and $32,000.
In order to pay for those changes, which would sustain the system through the end of the century, the plan also would apply payroll taxes to wages over $400,000 and gradually increase the contribution rate for both workers and employers to 7.4% from 6.2% of wages between 2020 and 2043.
One needed area of support to get the bill passed will be the Senate, as well as the president. There are indications that the administration is at least considering the issue, Larson said.
"We've met with Ivanka a couple of times," Larson said of President Donald Trump's daughter and advisor.
He said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has also met with the bill's supporters several times and likes the approach.
"We'll see what that translates into," he said.
Another Republican who has voiced support for the measure is Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. After hearing from his own mother how crucial those benefits and Medicare are to her budget, Meadows said in October he plans to work with Larson to come up with a Social Security fix.
"It is a bipartisan issue," Meadows said in the interview.
"We feel rather confident, with 204 original co-sponsors, that we will be able to pass the bill in the House," Larson said.
After that, how much progress is made is up to the Senate, and largely the president, he said.
"The question remains: Will the president engage?" Larson said. "I believe if he does, there is a clear path forward to the passage of the bill. If he doesn't, I think this will be a major campaign issue."
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The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is encouraging its members to raise the issue at the presidential candidates' town hall meetings.
"We're hoping that this becomes an issue in some of these Democratic debates that are going to begin next month," said Max Richtman, the advocacy group's president and CEO.
There's 125,000 Social Security recipients per congressional district, according to Larson.
The people who would benefit from the proposals would not just be baby boomers, he said.
Millennials are being financially "squeezed from all sides" when it comes to student debt and challenges such as buying a home, Larson said. "If ever there was a generation that needed the guarantee of Social Security, it's millennials."
The bill aims to help others with less income — including women, African Americans and Hispanics — by increasing minimum benefits to 25% above the poverty line, Larson said.
"Social Security is a civil rights issue," Larson said during his testimony at a budget committee on retirement security in May. Minorities rely on Social Security more because of lower wages, lower life expectancies and higher disability rates, he said.
"Social Security is also a women's issue," Larson said. While women overall earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, African American women earn 61 cents and Hispanic women earn 53 cents, he said. The average annual Social Security benefit for women is about $14,000.
"Without these modest benefits, 90% of women would be in poverty," Larson said at the hearing.