How The GOP's Focus On Reforming Popular Benefits Will End Its Newfound Momentum.
Article Written by Jett James Pruitt
In 1994, an infamous poll claimed that 26 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds believed Social Security will still exist when they retire, compared with 46 percent who believed in UFOs.
That was 28 years ago. President Bill Clinton was still in office, "Schindler's List" won Best Picture, and the first Sony PlayStation hit the shelves of Radio Shack.
Those young Gen X and Millennial survey respondents became parents themselves, and imparted their opinions on the youth they raised. Now imagine how those children — Generation Z — must feel about witnessing their parents struggle to keep up with inflation, and the likelihood of relying on Social Security when they turn 70 in the 2070's and 2080's.
While Democrats are focused on solving long-term existential issues such as climate change, Republicans are completely ignoring the concerns of younger voters, as well as scaring constituents over the age of 50 with threats of eliminating existing benefits such as Social Security.
In effect, Republicans are self-imploding by appealing to no one.
On November 11th, 2022, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R) criticized members of his own party for hurting the Republican Party’s chances in the midterm elections with their comments on Social Security. Speaking on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel, Governor Sununu charged against Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), arguing he scared older voters with his proposal to sunset Social Security every five years.
“He didn’t discuss it properly, and all of a sudden, there’s a tone out of Washington that we’re going to get rid of Social Security and Medicare, which of course is not going to happen,” Sununu said on ‘Julie Mason Mornings.’ While he said Scott was a “great senator,” Sununu expressed concern that his proposal to sunset Social Security is unnecessarily pouring “bits of gasoline on the fire,” thereby prompting voters to “push back on extremism.” Sununu also extended this criticism to Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) proposed 15-week national abortion ban.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH)
Two days before the mid-term elections, Scott defended his proposal on NBC News’ ‘Meet the Press’ by contending that Republicans do not want to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits. Rather, he and his colleagues want to assess the programs’ financial solvency and allow the American people to exert greater influence on the policymaking process.
However, Scott’s comments may have been too little, too late. Even with decades-high inflation, the Russo-Ukrainian war, and unprecedented fentanyl seizures at the Southern border plaguing the Biden administration, Republicans had an underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterms.
Pundits’ predictions of a red wave did not materialize, with the GOP actually losing a seat in the Senate and only gaining a slim majority in the House. This defied historical patterns, in which the party of an incumbent President usually receives an electoral backlash in the middle of their terms.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, a large reason for these results was voters’ concerns about jobs and the economy. 32% of surveyed Democrats and 65% of surveyed Republicans described the economy as an important issue, respectively.
While conservative politicians channeled these concerns to emphasize the negative effects of inflation, they arguably failed to develop a solid message as to how they would alleviate those woes. As such, Republicans created a messaging vacuum, allowing Democrats to counterbalance their electoral momentum by addressing Social Security. This may have swayed many older voters to support Democrat candidates.
In the United States, Social Security is a federal insurance program that offers disability, survivors’, and retirement benefits to eligible individuals. Formally known as Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), the program provides a universal monthly income for retired recipients starting around the ages of 62 to 67, depending upon their birth year and the level of benefits selected.
As reported by the Social Security Administration, the average monthly OASDI benefit for August 2022 was around $1,500.
Unlike other U.S. government programs, Social Security is a “safety net,” with nearly all legal residents pooling a fraction of their income to a single fund. For the most part, all working-age citizens and legal residents must have an individual Social Security number.
The program is primarily funded from payroll taxes. Payroll taxes are taxes levied on both employers and employees, calculated as a percentage of salary (i.e., the amount of money employers pay their employees). There are two types of payroll taxes that fund Social Security: FICA, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax, and SECA, the Self-Employed Contributions Act tax. These are collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and two Social Security Trust Funds.
In short, Social Security has remained an integral component of the American Welfare State for nearly a century. The program was created under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration with the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Since then, it has been widely credited with slashing poverty rates among Americans aged 65 and older and improving retirees’ quality of life.
Over the years, it has been amended to encompass many social insurance and welfare programs. In fact, total government expenditures on Social Security amounted to $1.145 trillion or approximately 5 percent of U.S. GDP in 2021, making it the largest government-provided program in the world.
Moreover, policymakers have expressed grave concerns about the program’s solvency. In 2020, trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund projected that Social Security will become fiscally insolvent by the year 2034. This is largely due to declining birthrates and an aging population in the United States. With less taxpayers to fund the program but more dependents receiving benefits, Social Security is re-surfacing as a major public policy issue.
Recently, lawmakers in Congress have drafted a plan to address this crisis. NBC News reports that a group of conservative Congressmen in the Republican Study Committee have proposed increasing the retirement age for Social Security to 70 years old. As of this writing, the program’s full retirement age is between 66 to 67. In short, many conservative policymakers argue this measure is necessary to delay the depletion of fund reserves. They also point out that the mean life expectancy in the United States is 77 years, justifying the increase in eligibility standards. Forbes reports that the committee (which is comprised of around 150 House Republicans) also proposes increasing the minimum benefit for workers by 40 years or more, and reducing initial benefits for high-income earners.
Aside from the Republican Study Committee, individual lawmakers have submitted their own plans for reform. As previously mentioned, Senator Rick Scott has proposed sunsetting Social Security every five years, while Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) suggested re-evaluating the program annually. It will be interesting to see whether these initiatives will be considered in light of the recent changes in leadership after the November 2022 Mid-terms.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)
After all, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — who is vying to become the next Speaker of the House — insinuated that the GOP may refuse to raise the nation’s debt limit next year unless Democrats consider their Social Security and Medicare plans.
Speaking to Punchbowl News AM in October 2022, McCarthy delivered a firm response to a question regarding the debt limit:
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt. And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a greater amount of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where we’ll provide you more money, but you have to change your behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right? And we should seriously sit together and [assess] where we can eliminate some waste? [We must collectively ask] Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”
Meanwhile, most left-wing policymakers vehemently oppose raising the age in which retirees can receive benefits. They argue doing so will remove an essential financial lifeline to vulnerable individuals and leave senior citizens in poverty. Moreover, they insist there are a variety of extenuating circumstances that influence when someone retires. In fact, Americans tend to retire five to six years earlier than they initially intended (Gallup, 2022). Therefore, changing the age threshold to receive Social Security benefits would only hurt those who need it the most.
In September 2022, President Joe Biden derided efforts to cut-back Social Security benefits, promising to “protect” and strengthen the program. Biden frequently attacked Republicans’ stance on this issue in the prelude to the November 8th Mid-term elections.
Within this context, Social Security will be the silent issue that annihilates Republican enthusiasm.
When will the GOP realize that 95% of Americans learn about public policies via headlines and soundbites? All that voters will remember is that Republicans want to "end Social Security in five years" or "re-evaluate its existence every year." They will not learn of the details, alternatives, or the benefits of reform — and Democrats will make sure of it.
Moving forward, it is important for members of both political parties to consider the public’s interest when implementing reform. But the Republican Party needs to be aware of the dangerous public messaging arena they are entering, only two years away from the next presidential election.
#SocialSecurity #SocialSecurityReform #RickScott #RonJohnson #FDR
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Born in 2005, Jett James Pruitt is a Native American (Taino Arawak), Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of the book Through The Eyes of a Young American. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheGenZPost.com, and is a political strategist specializing in Generation Z voting trends. His next book The Progressive Conservative is due in bookstores late next year.