Republican candidates for President have avoided using the Primary debates to explain their plans for Social Security. Exceptions include Chris Christie, who saw his ratings collapse after publicly urging that the retirement age be hiked, and Donald Trump, who said he would not cut benefits.
Ben Carson has not settled yet on a stance, except to remind us that life expectancy has increased. As a doctor, he must realize that today, fewer babies die at birth and feeble seniors are kept alive, but not active, for decades.
First, the GOP.
- John Kasich, Ted Cruz, George Bush and Marco Rubio all want to raise the retirement age – most likely to 70 with added annual increases after the initial goal. This will cost the average working American about $48,000 (three years) of lost benefits.
- Bush is the only candidate who wants to also increase the minimum retirement age (used by more and more sick or unemployed workers) from 62 to 65. This will impoverish many, and reduce most recipients’ benefits by tens of thousands of dollars, as formulas are changed on benefit amounts.
- Kasich, Bush and Rubio want to cut benefits for higher income workers. Congress would set the break point level annually and have the power to reduce all earned benefits. Currently workers who earn less than $850 a month (break point one), receive 90% of that amount in benefits. The next level, up to $5,157, is paid at only 32%, and the level above that, only 15%. In short, the more FICA taxes you pay, the lower your overall benefit percentage. It appears the program is already regressive, but these candidates want it to be even worse.
- Cruz and Bush also want to reduce Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) by using a different formula. For some reason they believe that your benefits should be worth less and less, the longer you live.
And the Democrat approach.
- Clinton and Sanders want to exclude workers earning between about $118,000 and $250,000 from FICA taxes, arguing that this means no tax increase for middle income workers. They would impose a lower percentage FICA tax on earnings above a quarter million. At the same time, they are talking about giving the extra contributions no extra benefits. Doing this would replace the current Social Security retirement plan with a welfare program, not geared to contributions. On the other hand, just increasing the cap would mean higher break points and cause more benefits for almost all recipients, which in the real world, sounds like a good idea.
Meanwhile, looking at the rest of the world, we see workers pay a low wage tax for a living rate retirement pension for all citizens, plus an additional tax and voluntary contribution that is used fairly and equally to supplement the base pension. The more you add to your “account”, the more pension you receive. No break points. No Congress changing your retirement age to pay for more election ads.
Franklin Roosevelt would have been proud …of what they are doing in places like Europe, but not here.