Opinion: Social Security is at stake this election season – and seniors have tremendous power

Sometimes voters don’t necessarily agree, the reason is another discussion. But let me give you an example, and it has to do with Social Security.

Keep in mind that older Americans tend to vote at a higher percentage than younger ones. For example, in the 2020 presidential election, 76% of Americans ages 65-74 voted, while only 51% of Americans ages 18-24 voted. This data, provided by the Census Bureau, adds that there are similar correlations between education and voter turnout: the better educated you are, the more likely you are to vote.

In the upcoming midterm elections, now less than three months away, Republicans remain heavily favored — a 78% chance, says FiveThirtyEight — to win back the House they lost in the last midterm election in 2018. The current 50-50 Senate split has a 62% chance of tipping in favor of the Democrats and cementing their razor-thin hold in the upper house.

Seniors, millions of whom rely heavily on the Social Security safety net, should pay more attention to such things. The gargantuan program, which will distribute $1.2 trillion to 66 million Americans this year, is at a crucial crossroads. As I and other MarketWatch contributors have noted, Social Security currently pays out more than it collects. Their trust fund is expected to be exhausted by 2034. When that happens, retirees will get whatever can be generated from payroll taxes, currently that’s expected to be about 77 cents on the dollar.

The demographics are ominous. Americans are retiring in droves, turning to Social Security and living longer. But thanks to the declining birth rate and the reluctance of some to immigrate, the labor force needed to pay Social Security taxes is not growing.

Read: Sen. Ron Johnson wants to turn Social Security into ‘discretionary spending’

Both Republicans and Democrats know something must be done. But their solutions differ dramatically, and that’s something seniors who vote should be mindful of.

“It’s long overdue that we make sure we improve this program,” Rep. John Larson (D-CT) said at a city hall this week. The 12-seat congressman who chairs the social security subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee has unveiled “Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust”, Legislation he says would, among other things, increase benefits for seniors and provide better protection against inflation. His idea for funding this expansion of Social Security—the first in more than half a century—is well known: removing the cap on Social Security taxes, currently $147,000.

Read more about Social Security 2100: That’s why Congress needs to act on Social Security—and do it now

So far, Larson’s legislation has nearly 200 co-sponsors and has garnered the support of more than 100 advocacy groups, but has not progressed very far, eclipsed by other priorities. The danger for Social Security advocates is that a Republican takeover in the House of Representatives – also very likely at this point – would derail Larson’s bill, particularly his plan to raise taxes on top earners.

What Would Republicans Do? Florida Sen. Rick Scott has a “An 11-Point Plan to Save America.” pointing out that Social Security — and Medicare, for that matter — is in trouble and needs fixing. Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is proposing that the basic legislation that has supported Social Security since 1935 and Medicare since 1965 be “sunk” (phased out), which would force Congress to act if it passed it want to maintain programs go. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can re-enact it,” the plan said.

In other words, Scott is proposing that these important programs — on which you may depend yourself — are regularly shelved unless lawmakers agree to keep them going.

Asked about it on Fox News Scott recently called it nothing more than a “Democratic talking point” (it’s not, it’s in his plan), a point also raised by Senate Chief Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Here’s a full fact check to all this:

Given how important programs like Social Security and Medicare are, seniors who depend so heavily on them should examine the positions of both parties and decide for themselves what’s best. With seniors voting so heavily, there will be plenty of campaign ads about it. I urge everyone to ignore these perfunctory 30-second commercials and instead read the details that both sites — which I linked in this article — are proposing. Opinion: Social Security is at stake this election season – and seniors have tremendous power

Brian Lowry

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