HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sam Rohrer (R), an 18-year veteran of the state legislature, has already made a name for himself during this campaign as one of the GOP’s most radical candidates. He thinks federal highways are unconstitutional, doesn’t understand the budget process, and has compared driver’s license requirements to slavery.
Rohrer also thinks the government should no longer provide federal services to the American people, a position he took a step farther Saturday at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. During a debate featuring the state’s Republican Senate candidates, Rohrer, the party’s front-runner, outlined a proposal to privatize Social Security and end the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides aid to disabled Americans:
ROHRER: The structural aspect of the program that is in place, financially, if we don’t make changes, it will not be there for those who are coming up. So we’ve got to stop the cost increase, meaning we do it this way. We’ve got to take out the younger workers, maybe it’s an age of 50, maybe it’s as you say, 45, determine that age where those up to that point are not compelled to join Social Security. They’re allowed to go into a program like 401(k), have their own plan, and you obviously cut the cost on the outside.
But secondarily, we have to reduce the cost of Social Security now, otherwise we will not find us able to make payouts either. And that, I recommend, we do by bringing it back into line with what Social Security was acceptably set into place to be originally, and that’s as a retirement assistance program. Meaning we have to back off such things as disability — SSI payments — where we have many new people brought into the program. Many illegal aliens are receiving SSI payments. That is a part of the program that Social Security was never intended to fund, and that’s a part that we can logically back off, bring it back to its major core. I think we can preserve and extend the life of Social Security.
Privatizing Social Security, as Rohrer would like to do, would have had disastrous consequences for Americans during the Great Recession. According to a 2008 Center for American Progress analysis found that an October 2008 retiree would have lost $26,000 in a private Social Security account even before the market bottomed out in 2009. Given that two-thirds of senior citizens count on Social Security for more than half their monthly income, those kind of losses would dump millions into poverty.
Ending SSI and disability payments goes even farther. According to the Social Security Administration, more than 8.1 million Americans received SSI in January 2012, and nearly 1.3 million of the recipients were children. SSI’s support is modest — the average monthly payment in January was $517 — but important. A 2005 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that SSI lifted 2.4 million Americans above the poverty line in 2003. And despite Rohrer’s claims that “illegal aliens” are benefiting from the program, SSI has far stricter requirements even for legal immigrants than most federal assistance programs.
Rohrer, meanwhile, ignored the easiest solution to Social Security’s long-term health. Lifting the payroll tax cap, which currently taxes all income below $106,800 for Social Security purposes, would ensure the program’s solvency for the next 75 years.
The other GOP candidates — Tom Smith, Steve Welch, and Marc Scaringi — all “said voters under either the age of 40 or 45 should have at least the option of replacing Social Security benefits with private investment accounts. They noted the severe fiscal problems facing the Social Security fund, and several called it insolvent.”