The impending insolvency of Social Security

by Tom Cole

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee since 2009, I have spent an abundance of time working on how we can reduce our national debt, balance the budget, and keep money in American pockets, instead of in Washington. However, as a budget hawk, I know that the U.S. deficit problem cannot be solved exclusively in the Appropriations Committee, as discretionary spending only amounts to roughly 28 percent of U.S. expenditures.

The true cause of our growing national debt is non-discretionary, or mandatory spending, programs. As a matter of fact, over the next thirty years, Social Security faces a $19 trillion deficit and Medicare faces a $44 trillion deficit. If we are truly going to produce a balanced budget, which we should be striving to do, we need to be having serious discussions about these entitlement programs, which make up approximately 60 percent of all spending.

Now, although bad faith actors want to use partisan rhetoric to win elections and convince you otherwise, we have all known about the impending insolvency of Social Security for years. In fact, according to the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, if we do not make any policy changes, Social Security’s funds will be exhausted in 2033. Without reform, in 2033 and so forth, Social Security will only be able to pay what comes in, and beneficiaries will only receive 77 cents on every dollar they are due. In conclusion, this would cut $391 from the average retired American’s $1,700 check.

So, unlike many, I will tell you the truth - doing nothing about Social Security is not an option, and the biggest attack on Social Security really comes from those who want to simply ignore the issue.

However, I want to be clear – I do not want to cut Social Security. I want to prevent the very real cuts that are coming in a decade from now, while at the same time help save us from the catastrophic debt crisis our nation is facing. In fact, saving Social Security is exactly what my colleagues and I are trying to do, just as President Ronald Reagan did in 1983 when Social Security faced the same risk it does today.

It is time for Congress to act on this issue. This is why my first action of the 118th Congress was the reintroduction of the Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act, which I have led or co-led for six Congresses now.

This legislation creates a bipartisan, independent commission of thirteen people appointed by the President and Congressional leaders in both parties. Within one year of its first meeting, the commission would have to report to Congress with a proposal to ensure Social Security’s trust funds are solvent for the next 75 years. This proposal would have to be made with the support of commission members, and then the proposal would receive expedited consideration in Congress for a vote.

I understand the political benefit of ignoring the impending solvency of Social Security, but we are at a critical point in time. If we ignore the very real, scheduled cuts that are coming, beneficiaries will actually see the cuts. Again, I do not want to eliminate this program that is so crucial to the livelihoods of retired Americans, but we must move forward on addressing this issue, and I am hopeful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will work together to save Social Security.