In an address to the Cobb Country Chamber of Commerce today, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) called one of the most regressive changes that could be made to Social Security — raising the retirement age — a painless fix for keeping the program solvent in the long-term:
The deficit commission said, you know, if you just change [the retirement age] and by the year 2075 you make that 69 years for the eligibility age and you take the cap and raise the cap by five percent on the taxable income that you apply to the payroll tax, you save Social Security. Now there are people, interest groups that are out there, who don’t believe in shared sacrifice, are already saying that destroys Social Security. It doesn’t destroy it, it saves it…Social Security is fixable, actuarially and painlessly.
Contrary to Isakson’s assertion, an increase in the retirement age would actually be quite painful for many Americans. Raising the retirement age would cut benefits for middle-class retirees, exasperate income inequality and disproportionately affect low-income earners whose life expectancies have stagnated in the past three decades (as changes in life expectancy have largely mirrored changes in income inequality).
Yet Isakson and other Republican leaders such as Govs. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Mitch Daniels (R-IN) have enthusiastically endorsed raising the retirement age while ignoring its impact on low-income workers. Isakson’s other proposed reform — raising the cap on taxable income for Social Security — would be a much more progressive and effective change that would help the program keep paying full benefits for the next 75 years. Even with no changes, Social Security will pay full benefits until 2037 and close to full benefits for decades after that.
Isakson — the 46th richest member of Congress — even went as far to call opponents of raising the retirement age “interest groups who don’t believe in shared sacrifice.” Yet recent polling has shown strong support even among Tea Party members for raising the income cap rather than cutting benefits.