In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama called on lawmakers to “find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations” without cutting much-needed benefits or privatizing the program. Unhappy with such constraints, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voiced the GOP perspective: “everything” — including slashing benefits — “should be on the table.”
The GOP’s latest scheme is to raise the retirement age which, as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo notes, “is essentially the most regressive change would-be Social Security reformers could make.” More galling than the detrimental policy is the outlandish rationalization behind it. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) believes, if we ignore low-income earners and middle-class retirees “who don’t believe in shared sacrifice,” then raising the retirement age is “painless.” Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) falsely claimed that all Americans are living longer,and even argued that young people will start living to 100 “by replacing body parts like we do tires.” Flaunting his knack for delusion, Cantor said that if “we do not do something” to raise the age, Social Security will cease to exist.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a long-time proponent who was recently targeted in a TV ad for his position, offered a more innovative reason to raise the age: that’s what the troops would do. Speaking at the Atlantic’s post-State of the Union event today about his recent trip to Afghanistan, Graham said that if lawmakers would “act in accordance with the way” the troops serve in war, then Congress would raise the retirement age from 67 to 69:
GRAHAM: I would give anything if the United States Congress for one month could act in accordance with the way our men and women are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know what to do on Social Security. I’ve put on the table adjusting the age from 67 to 69. There’s an ad running in South Carolina right now from some group on the left with a 59-year-old librarian saying I’m ruining her life. Well let me tell you, under the proposal, changes don’t affect you if you’re over 55. So I’m a reasonable guy. But how the heck can we save this country from bankruptcy if we don’t reform entitlements? …You will never convince me that that is hard sell if we wanted to sell it. So what the president said last night — “I’m willing to work with you but you can’t affect anybody’s benefits” — that’s telling me he’s planning a 2012 campaign not a 2011 governing session.
So I’m going to offer to the president and to Rand Paul, which is a wide spectrum of people, an opportunity to make a small down payment on entitlement reform by introducing legislation soon that would adjust the age the way Reagan and O’Neill did — 67 to 69 — over decades and a reasonable means test on benefits as a down payment to getting our entitlement house in order. And they can run all the commercials they want. It does not matter…I know what I need to do to help my country. And these young men and women know what they need to do in Iraq to make us safe.
Committed to his new-found warrior mission, Graham is willing to hold raising the debt ceiling hostage unless Congress raises the retirement age and means tests Social Security — a strategy he himself admitted would bring “collapse and calamity throughout the world.”
Graham’s myopic position would deal a double blow to the economy. While failing to raise the debt ceiling would wreak havoc on the entire economy, raising the retirement age would simultaneously cut $35,419-worth in benefits for the average retiree, would exacerbate income inequality, and would “disproportionately affect low-income earners whose life expectancies have stagnated in the past three decades.” Indeed, as Garofalo points out, the raising life expectancy argument ignores the fact that life expectancy gains have almost entirely benefited wealthy workers. Ultimately, if this kind of inequality continues, raising the retirement age would mean that “those born in 1973 and after having a shorter retirement than those born in 1912.”
This is predominantly the reason why 70 percent of Americans oppose raising the retirement age and why over 100 House Democrats have signed a letter opposing the detrimental policy. But Graham follows a different logic: if the troops are fighting in Afghanistan, lawmakers need to raise the retirement age — no matter what the cost.
George “Tony” Jacobs says: I don’t think you can actually refer to that as “logic”.