Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio’s Social Security drastic slashing has its critics howling (for good reason).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has drawn the ire of senior groups for reforms he says would protect the lifespan of Social Security and Medicare while opponents counter it will instead cut benefits instead and harm the elderly. When it comes to Social Security, the always-controversial Rubio says the retirement age should be raised to help the entitlement remain solvent. His proposal would not affect those 55 and older. He also proposed reducing the growth in the monthly benefit that the wealthiest recipients of Social Security receive.
In Medicare, Rubio threw his support behind a proposal of premium support that gives those 65 and older the option of staying on Medicare as it is now or opting to buy private insurance. In the second scenario, seniors would receive a fixed sum to buy insurance. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has that proposal in his much-maligned House GOP budget.
Democratic lawmakers, liberals and all senior organizations attacked the proposals as soon as Rubio made them at the National Press Club.
“Our view is that it’s cuts to Social Security and privatization and cost shifting to beneficiaries when it comes to Medicare,” says Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “The raise in the retirement age is in effect a benefit cut to make people work longer for the benefits that you earned under Social Security. Under Medicare, he would turn it into the same plan that Paul Ryan has been advocating for the last five years—a voucher where Medicare gets privatized and insurance companies run the program with a fixed voucher for each person from the Medicare Trust Fund. As inflation goes up, beneficiaries keep having to pay more out of pocket.”
Rubio says he understands the importance of Social Security and Medicare and how much it helped his parents with their retirement and security. He says he’s concerned because the economy has threatened those programs that people rely on in their retirement. If the government doesn’t fix the programs, he says there will be a “real and looming crisis.”
The Medicare hospital fund is solvent through 2026 and the Social Security trust fund is set for 20 more years when benefits would have to be trimmed to about 75 percent based on payroll tax income.
Cutting benefits is one way you can propose to help the trust funds, but we have a number of proposals on the table that can help extend the lives of the trust funds without beneficiary cuts, Fiesta says.
There is proposed legislation on Social Security that over time would scrap the earnings cap that’s currently $117,000 on what higher income people pay into the system, Fiesta says. Scrapping the cap over ten years would increase average benefits by about $800 a year, he says.
“There’s a way to extend the trust fund to 2050 and beyond,” Fiesta says. “We think there are ways to strengthen and expand Social Security without proposals such as Marco Rubio’s and Paul Ryan’s in which you’re cutting benefits.”
Fiesta says it’s unlikely the proposals will go anywhere because there’s a “strong force” in the Senate against any cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Only talk of a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to the budget would lead to changes in entitlements at this point, he says.
The speculation of Rubio’s proposal has centered on politics, something Rubio denies.
“Coming from a senator from Florida that has more people over 65 than any other state, it could be he’s posturing himself to run for president in 2016,” Fiesta says. “And in a Republican primary, their most loyal voters are very right wing extreme voters on issues like this. I don’t think it’s a coincidence two weeks before this speech on Social Security and Medicare he was saying he didn’t believe in climate change. From a state that doesn’t have a lot of high mountains in it, that’s head scratching, too.”
Silly season is apparently in full swing already.