By Walter Jones –
ATLANTA – Later retirement and benefits restricted to the needy are two ways Sen. David Perdue says Social Security needs to be reformed.
The Georgia Republican made the comments Monday when talking to reporters at the Atlanta Press Club when asked how specifically he would reduce the federal debt.
Since he first began running for the office in early 2013, the retired CEO has warned that ballooning federal debt weakens the economy and hampers national defense. Now that he’s spent nearly a year in the Senate, he remains frustrated that members of both political parties are reluctant to take unpopular steps to rein in spending.
“Both sides are responsible for the five-alarm catastrophe we have right now. There are no innocent parties in this,” he said.
Although he promised to avoid political posturing, Perdue blamed the debt on the New Deal, the Great Society and Obamacare, all major legislative programs of Democratic presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama.
While he offered general warnings that Congress must confront the costs of all of the programs, the only specific recommendations he made were for Social Security.
Passed during the Roosevelt administration, it was designed to provide assistance to those too old to work. Most Americans at the time worked until they died, and full, old-age benefits were only available to people who lived past the average life expectancy.
Now that life expectancy far exceeds age 65, the benefit has become thought of as a universal retirement check, even for the wealthy.
Since all private-sector workers and their employers pay into the system, it is commonly thought of as an investment account people withdraw from in their later years. But people collect more in benefits than they pay in.
For instance, the Urban Institute estimates that a man and woman earning $65,000 yearly who retired this year would have paid in about $591,000 into the system and would collect $935,000 over their lifetimes. That extra $344,000, which is 58 percent more than the couple paid in, has to come from somewhere.
One proposal Perdue offers is to allow the Senate Budget Committee he serves on to have authority to add or cut Social Security spending as part of its annual budget process for the federal government.
Still, any changes should be phased in over 30 years, he said, so that it has no impact on people already collecting benefits or those close to qualifying.
“I’m not sure you can even do it until 55 because you have to have time to react to whatever we change,” he said.
He also mentioned “means testing,” which limits benefits to people who don’t have the “means” to support themselves, in other words, the poor or at least not the rich.
Conservatives have generally opposed means testing because then top earners would pay into the system but get nothing back. Some liberals also worry that would make it another welfare program susceptible to politically motivated cuts.
Raising the retirement age draws a similar divide. Conservatives like it; liberals call it a benefit cut because the upper-income earners tend to enjoy longer lifespans.
Perdue admits his ideas haven’t gained traction in Washington, where he says political veterans are distracted by the desire to win the next election.
Still, he says it would have a strong economic benefit.
“If I told the world today, I’m going to fix the debt and it would take 30 years to do it, you can’t imagine what confidence that would give to corporate executives investing money every day,” he said.
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