Democrats and Republicans agree on this: Social Security and Medicare need help — and soon
Political parties don’t seem to agree on much these days, but at least 100 members split among Democrats and Republicans do share one common belief — Social Security is in dire need of help — and they want Congress to do something about it.
The trust funds that support Social Security’s activities are expected to run out of money by 2035, and if that were to happen, beneficiaries would receive about 80% of what they’re owed. Medicare is in even more imminent danger — the Medicare Hospital Insurance fund, which supports inpatient care, is expected to be exhausted in 2026.
The Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Academy of Social Insurance released a letter on Tuesday, with 100 signatures from both political parties, addressing this issue, and one way to go about fixing it.
In the letter, Republicans and Democrats call on Congress to act on pending nominations for the public trustee roles for the boards of Social Security and Medicare, which have been vacant since 2015. These roles are supposed to be filled by two people, one Democrat and one Republican, who will work with the boards of Social Security and Medicare to provide guidance for these programs from an independent, nongovernmental perspective.
The roles were first established in 1983, and their vacancies are “violating the intent of federal law and depriving Congress and the public of key objective insights into the health of the [Social Security and Medicare] Trust Funds,” the letter says. The last two public trustees’ terms expired in 2015 under the Obama administration, and Congress has not prioritized filling the positions since, the Bipartisan Policy Center said.
President Trump nominated James Lockhart III, a Republican and a former chief operating officer of the Social Security Administration, and William Dauster, a Democrat and economist who worked on Senate and White House staffs between 1986 and 2017. “It is imperative that the vacancies are filled expeditiously to ensure the proper monitoring and safeguarding of the funds that help provide a secure financial foundation for millions of Americans,” the letter says. The Senate must confirm the president’s nominations before they can proceed with a four-year term.
Letter signatories include former members of the Trump, Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as former members of Congress and former Congressional Budget Office directors.
“The fact that it’s signed by prominent folks from both sides of the aisle — 100 former public officials equally split — saying it’s urgent to be acted on speaks volumes about the need to get this done even in the midst of a very partisan environment,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Legislators and other policy experts have suggested options for fixing the programs’ funding issues. Some suggest increasing taxes, while others recommend delaying the full retirement age or raising the cap on payroll taxes imposed on high earners. The Democrats have been more vocal about their proposals for Social Security, but still, even during a volatile presidential candidacy campaign trail, Social Security is rarely discussed on the debate stage.
Congress has never let Social Security and Medicare fail, experts said, but action should be taken sooner than the anticipated dates of exhaustion for Medicare and Social Security, Akabas said. “We really need to work well in advance of that date,” Akabas said. “Because at that point, a 20% gap of what is taken in and paid out and closing that overnight is next to impossible.”
Appointing the public trustee nominees wouldn’t necessarily expedite a solution for fixing the current trajectories of these programs, but they would provide an objective viewpoint, and signal to Americans that the programs are being evaluated fairly for their best interests, Akabas said.
The letter comes one day after the Trump administration unveiled its budget proposal for fiscal year 2021, which would trim funding for Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, as well as other programs for older Americans.