The first two presidential debates pitting Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton have meandered into a variety of topics, but Social Security hasn’t been among them. The presidential contenders managed to talk about carried interest — an arcane financial topic if there ever was one — while ignoring the nation’s largest retirement program.
Yet the third debate Oct. 19 in Las Vegas might finally cover this important issue. Here are five talking points that the candidates might address:
Does Social Security have a funding problem?
It seems ridiculous to even ask this question, since Social Security’s trustees see the retirement program starting to run out of money around 2034. Yet Clinton’s website downplays the threat, even accusing Republicans of “scare tactics” to worry seniors about Social Security’s finances. Nor has Trump’s campaign spent much time identifying Social Security as a major problem up there with illegal immigration, foreign trade or tax reform. How the candidates position the solvency threat to Social Security could set the debate tone on this topic.
Is Social Security everyone’s problem?
For decades, politicians have pandered to senior citizens, reassuring the elderly that they wouldn’t cut retirement benefits. But that would shift all the pain to younger generations. Younger workers are the ones who would be called on to pay higher payroll taxes, accept rising retirement ages or shoulder the impact from other possible reforms. Politicians historically have shied away from making proposals that would affect people already retired, and that’s not likely to change in this debate, either.
How would you shore up Social Security’s solvency?
This is the key question, as none of the reform proposals are appealing and all involve pain to somebody. Probably the two most serious proposals would be to raise the age at which full retirement benefits are paid (currently 67) or raise/eliminate the payroll-income cap — workers pay taxes in support of Social Security on up to $118,500 in wages, but no taxes on income above that. Other proposals could include increasing the payroll tax rate supporting Social Security and/or trimming benefits for upper-income Americans.
Should benefits be expanded?
While solvency fixes likely would be the focus of any debate, it’s possible one or both candidates — most likely Clinton — might suggest making retirement benefits more generous. This is a timely topic given that the Social Security Administration, within the next couple of weeks, will announce how much of a COLA or cost-of-living adjustment will be paid in 2017. Any increase is certain to be…
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