December 21, 2014

A Bipartisan Panel Could Encourage Social Security Reform

  • Social Security, established in 1935, is the federal government’s largest program. It represents approximately one-fifth of the federal budget and...

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have introduced a bill that would create a commission tasked with restoring the 75-year solvency of Social Security.

The bill would require the leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress to appoint three members each to the commission, with the President naming a 13th commissioner. At least two commissioners would be policy experts who do not currently hold elected office.

Nine of the 13 members would be required to approve recommendations, which would be sent to Congress within one year of the panel’s first meeting. The recommendations would get expedited consideration by Congress.

In an ideal world, we would not need another commission to deal with an obvious solvency problem that has been brewing for many years. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see two lawmakers reach across the aisle to acknowledge one of the nation’s biggest fiscal challenges and propose a process for dealing with it.

Social Security is currently running cash deficits, paying $68 billion more in benefits than it collected in dedicated revenues last year. This gap is projected to worsen over time as more baby boomers retire and longevity increases. Unfunded obligations over the traditional 75-year valuation period for Social Security total $9.6 trillion according to the most recent trustees report.

This proposal, introduced Friday, comes at a particularly opportune time, as the most recent Social Security Trustees Report projected that recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance would face an across-the-board cut of 20 percent to their benefits if no reforms are enacted by late 2016. While Congress will undoubtedly pass legislation to prevent such cuts, lawmakers should try to address the entire system’s long-term solvency.

In the end, elected representatives will have to make the difficult decisions that effective reform will require. But a commission that produces solutions with meaningful bipartisan support could provide a catalyst for congressional action.