Last week, Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK) and John K. Delaney (D-MD) introduced a bill that would create a bicameral, bipartisan commission tasked with producing recommendations to improve the long-term solvency of Social Security. The legislation, the Social Security Commission Act of 2014, would provide for a 13 member commission, consisting of three appointees from each party’s leader in each chamber and a chairperson to be named by the president. The legislation specifies that at least one of each party’s congressional appointees be non-elected experts.
Within one year of first convening, the Social Security commission would be required to report to Congress on the 75-year outlook for the program’s finances and produce recommendations for ensuring the Trust Fund’s solvency over that period. Approval of the report would require affirmative votes from nine commissioners, ensuring a bipartisan consensus. Following approval, legislation containing the commission’s recommendations would receive expedited consideration in both houses of Congress for an up or down vote.
If enacted, this legislation would represent the first significant effort by Congress since the 1983 Greenspan Commission to address the financial challenges facing the Social Security program. Social Security provides benefits to covered workers who have reached age 62, survivors of covered workers, and those who were forced to leave the workforce due to a disability. The latest Social Security Trustees Annual Report notes that the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund is projected to be exhausted in 2016, while the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund will be depleted in 2033. To avert exhaustion of these funds, Congress will face some difficult decisions such as increasing taxes in order to maintain existing benefit levels, reducing scheduled benefits, or some combination of these options. An increase in the national debt should the shortfall be funded out of general revenues would adversely affect beneficiaries and workers alike.
The Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force recommended a package of reforms including modifications to benefits, revenue increases, and the inclusion of currently uncovered populations, primarily certain state and local government employees, in Social Security. The Bipartisan Policy Center also recently launched a Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings to examine whether saving rates and vehicles are adequately meeting the retirement needs of Americans. This initiative will consider both employer-based retirement plans and the interaction of Social Security with personal savings and how reforms to Social Security could affect retirement income security. We applaud Reps. Cole and Delaney for introducing this bill and hope that it will spur long-overdue congressional action on Social Security reform.
Alex Gold and Jacob Morello contributed to this post.