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Social Security could go broke by 2035, but lawmakers have new ideas to fix it

Doug Sword, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Sanders' bill, which has a House companion introduced by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., would increase both benefits and taxes. It would apply the existing 12.4% payroll tax -- split equally between workers and employers -- to income above $250,000 a year. For 2019, the threshold above which the tax no longer applies is $132,900.

That tax would be paired with a new 6.2% tax on investment income for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples filing jointly earning more than $250,000. The new taxes would eliminate much of the program's long-term deficit while paying for benefit increases, including increases in the minimum monthly benefit, a more generous cost-of-living adjustment and extending student benefits up to age 22.

According to Social Security's actuaries, the Sanders-DeFazio bill would push out the date of trust fund depletion to 2071.

Senate co-sponsors include Sanders' fellow presidential candidates Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts hadn't signed on as of Monday, but she and Sanders are founding members of the Senate's "Expand Social Security Caucus," formed last September.

A competing bill offered earlier this month, from Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, would phase out the current taxable earnings cap over the next seven years while also providing a more generous method of calculating inflationary benefit increases. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., introduced the House version. Their bill, which is co-sponsored by Gillibrand, would extend Social Security solvency until 2053, according to the program's actuaries.

The only bill currently before Congress that would restore full solvency to the Social Security program over the long haul is also the one that has the best chance of moving in the current session.


Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would boost benefits while exempting more of those benefits from tax and set a new minimum benefit for lower-income retirees while applying the payroll tax above $400,000 in earnings and gradually increasing the tax rate to 14.8% over the next 24 years.

Larson, who chairs the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, hopes to mark up his bill before the August recess, a spokeswoman said.

While Larson's bill isn't expected to advance in the GOP-controlled Senate, simply marking it up in Ways and Means would lay down an important marker to gain traction in the next Congress, should Democrats make electoral gains at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The measure has 203 House co-sponsors this year, or 86% of the Democratic Caucus -- including Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts -- though no Republican support. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced their chamber's version of Larson's bill.


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