Retire Better

Aug. 19, 2022, 12:12 p.m. EDT

Social Security is at a crossroads this election season — and older voters have enormous power

Watchlist Relevance

Want to see how this story relates to your watchlist?

Just add items to create a watchlist now:

or Cancel Already have a watchlist? Log In

By Paul Brandus

Sometimes voters don’t necessarily connect the dots on things — the reason for this is another discussion. But let me provide an example, and it has to do with Social Security. 

Consider that older Americans tend to vote in greater percentages than younger ones. In the 2020 presidential election, for example, 76% of Americans aged 65-74 voted, while just 51% of Americans aged 18-24 did. This data, provided by the Census Bureau, adds that there are similar correlations between education and voter turnout: The better educated you are, the more likely you are to vote. 

In the looming midterm election, now less than three months away, Republicans remain heavily favored—a 78% probability, says FiveThirtyEight— to regain the House of Representatives, which they lost during the last midterm election in 2018. The current 50-50 Senate split has a 62% chance of tilting in favor of the Democrats, solidifying their razor-thin hold on the upper chamber. 

Seniors, tens of millions of whom are heavily dependent upon Social Security’s safety net, should pay closer attention to such things. The gargantuan program—which this year will distribute $1.2 trillion to 66 million Americans, is at a crucial crossroads. As I and other MarketWatch writers have noted, Social Security is currently paying out more than it is taking in. Its trust fund is projected to be exhausted by 2034. When that happens, retirees will get whatever can be generated by payroll taxes, and currently that’s projected to be about  77 cents on the dollar.   

The demographics are ominous. Americans are retiring in droves, tapping into Social Security, and they’re living longer. Yet thanks to a plunging birthrate and antipathy among some toward immigration, the workforce—which is needed to pay Social Security taxes—isn’t growing. 

Read: Sen. Ron Johnson wants to turn Social Security into ‘discretionary spending’

Both Republicans and Democrats know something has to be done. But their solutions vary dramatically, and that’s what seniors who vote should be paying attention to. 

“It’s long overdue that we make sure that we’re enhancing this program,” said Rep. John Larson (D-CT) in a town hall this week. The 12-term congressman, who chairs the Social Security subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced  “Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust,”  legislation which he says would, among other things, boost benefits for seniors and offer better protection against inflation. His idea to finance this expansion of Social Security—the first in more than half a century—is a familiar one: to scrap the ceiling on Social Security taxes, currently $147,000. 

Read about Social Security 2100: This is why Congress needs to act on Social Security — right now

So far, Larson’s legislation has nearly 200 co-sponsors and has won the backing of more than 100 advocacy groups but hasn’t advanced very far, eclipsed by other priorities. The danger for Social Security advocates is that a Republican takeover in the House—again quite likely at this writing—would all but doom Larson’s bill, particularly his plan to hike taxes on top earners.

What would Republicans do? Florida Sen. Rick Scott has released an “ An 11-Point Plan to Rescue America,”  in which he points out that Social Security—and Medicare too, by the way—are troubled and need to be fixed. Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, proposes that the foundational legislation that has supported Social Security since 1935, and Medicare since 1965, be “sunsetted” (allowed to expire), which would force Congress to act if it wants to keep these programs going. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” the plan says. 

In other words, Scott is proposing that these crucial programs—which perhaps you depend on yourself—be put on the chopping block on a regular basis, unless lawmakers agree to keep them going. 

Asked about this on Fox News  recently, Scott called that nothing more than a “Democrat talking point” (It’s not, it’s in his plan), a point that has also been made by the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  Here’s a full fact check  on all this: 

Given how essential programs like Social Security and Medicare are, seniors who depend so heavily on them should examine the positions of both parties and determine for themselves what’s best. Since seniors vote in such strong numbers, there will be campaign ads galore about this. I urge everyone to ignore these glib 30-second commercials and instead read the details that both sides—that I have linked to in this article—are proposing.

This Story has 0 Comments
Be the first to comment
More News In

Story Conversation

Commenting FAQs »

Partner Center

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.