No Labels on Social Security

The American people are worried about Social Security. According to a recent survey by the Gallup organization, only 51 percent of individuals not now receiving benefits expect to get them when they retire. Fully two-thirds of Americans under the age of 50 don’t believe that the system will be there for them when they will need it.

Although these fears are exaggerated, they are not groundless. The 2015 report of the Social Security Board of Trustees found that under current policies, the system’s trust fund will be exhausted by 2034, after which all beneficiaries — current as well as future — would be subject to an immediate 25 percent cut in benefits.

The system’s Disability Insurance program is in much worse condition. In fact, it is careening toward crisis — its trust fund will be depleted by the end of 2016, leaving millions of disabled Americans in the lurch.

Some legislators want to postpone dealing with this crisis by reallocating resources from the larger retirement trust fund. The trustees warn, however, that Congress should not regard this transfer as “a substitute for action to sustain the finances of DI [Disability Insurance] and Social Security as a whole.” Nor, they say, should it be enacted “in a manner that has the effect of further postponing those required corrections.”

Translation: Stop evading the problem and start fixing it.

That’s where No Label’s national strategic agenda comes in. Based on consultations with legislators, policy experts and the American people, it proposes four large goals for the next president and Congress. One of them is stabilizing Social Security (and Medicare, which also faces long-term problems) for the next 75 years, which is the accepted benchmark for solvency.

It’s important to have big goals that command broad support, as fixing Social Security overwhelmingly does. But it’s also important to show how we can achieve these goals. That’s why No Labels is developing a menu of common-sense policy options that the next Congress and president could use to do what the American people know needs to be done. And once these options are made public, the people can see for themselves that fixing our problems isn’t as hard as partisans on both sides say it is.

Between now and January 2017, we’ll be working hard to get presidential candidates to endorse our goals, which also include creating 25 million jobs over the next decade, achieving energy security by 2024, and reaching fiscal balance by 2030. We’ll be working just as hard to get them to endorse a process of cooperating and negotiating between the parties, without which it’s almost impossible to get anything done in today’s Washington.

For too long our leaders have promised to unite the country — without saying how. The national strategic agenda, we believe, is the “how.” That’s why it’s so important for all Americans — liberals, moderates and conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and independents — to get behind it.

Galston is a co-founder of No Labels and a senior fellow of governance at the Brookings Institution.


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