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Social Security

Published November 17, 2011 1:01 am

Chaffetz plan would save program
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The detailed proposal put forward the other day by Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz is not the plan to save Social Security. But it is a plan. One not only based on clear priorities but, more importantly, one that actually adds up.

On that last point, you don't have to take our word, or the representative's. The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration has reviewed the numbers and pronounced them balanced. The Chaffetz plan to slow the growth of Social Security payments over many years, with most of the give-backs falling on those who can most afford it, would indeed slow the decline of the Social Security Trust Fund. Trends would go positive by 2051 and the fund would be on a sound basis for the next 75 years at least.

The primary flaw in the Chaffetz plan, as we see it, is that it suggests no increases in revenue — only decreases in future benefits. Actually, it makes no sense for the person who makes $2 million, or $200 million, a year, to pay the same amount in FICA taxes as the person who makes $110,100 — the current cap on income subject to the tax.

The wealthier among us might never benefit from Social Security in proportion to what they would pay in higher taxes. But they still have an interest in preserving the soundness of the system, and not only for the benefit of fellow citizens. Rich people who pay in enough to save Social Security now may well, like many of the rest of us, benefit greatly in the future if their huge incomes ever dry up. It happens.

But, then, as Chaffetz notes, he is a Republican, and Republicans never begin their negotiations with a tax hike.

Chaffetz would alter the way lifetime earnings are figured and the way future cost-of-living increases are calculated so benefits for most would grow more slowly than they would under current law. The changes are weighted to ensure that those with the lowest incomes — through their working lives as well as in retirement — would suffer the least. Many of those at the bottom of the income scale, and those who make it past the age of 85, would actually see small increases.

Meanwhile, those who have the most wealth — especially in retirement — would see their benefits restrained the most.

It is a plan that recognizes what Social Security is. It is not, despite what George W. Bush suggested, an investment that promises a return. And it is not, despite what Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, an insurance plan.

It is an intergenerational income transfer to preserve a modicum of dignity for those who contributed to American society over a lifetime and deserve no less in their final years.

The Chaffetz plan rates a serious look.