Social Security is on a collision course with insolvency, and taxpayers will undoubtedly be asked to pay to fix the problem. Conventional wisdom suggests there can be no bipartisan consensus on Social Security reform when Congress reconvenes next session.
Forget for a moment the general fear in Washington of touching “the third rail of American politics.” In this age of extreme partisan division, the thinking goes; Republicans and Democrats are unlikely to agree on a course of action that ensures the long-term health and solvency of the Social Security system. And so we need to wait for one party to wipe out the other in an election year and then exhaust its political capital on a wholly partisan and ideological set of reforms. (See Obamacare as a classic example.)
But could the conventional wisdom be wrong?
Obviously, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t about to agree on Social Security anytime soon. But they don’t need to. Instead, each needs to understand, as previous presidents have understood, that allowing the system to go bankrupt would ruin the lives of working Americans and future retirees while permanently tarnishing their legacies forever.
The need for action becomes clearer by the moment. Too few workers are trying to pay the Social Security promises to too many retirees. The system begins to run a deficit by 2025. By 2034, typical Americans could see benefit cuts of up to $10,000 per year. This would have a traumatic effect on our economy and on the lives of seniors. Imagine grandma losing $10,000 per year and the impact that would have on her … and you. It’s an outcome we must avoid.
History shows bipartisan compromise is the only hope for meaningful, lasting reforms. AARP recently released a video of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan finishing each other's sentences while extolling the virtues and benefits of Social Security:
While the two certainly would not have agreed on everything, their shared understanding of the importance of this issue – one man initiated it, the other saved it for a generation of retirees – would have had them sitting at the same table, hashing out their differences on the matter.
Perhaps it’s a quaint notion – politicians of different persuasions working in concert for the common good. But the compromise between President Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) is still vivid in our memories; still referenced around Washington as the ideal for policy negotiations among political combatants.
Elsewhere there’s a good deal of intellectual chatter on the subject in the policy and think tank worlds. Plenty of reform plans are in circulation. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been pressured into putting forth ideas for reform. Some of their ideas are good, most are insufficient, but they are leaps and bounds ahead of the just-don’t-touch-it rhetoric of years past.
Most importantly, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is ready and willing to talk about reform. In the interest of current and future retirees, taxpayers, and all Americans, reform has to happen now. Partisanship shouldn’t get in the way of such an important task.