Recently, many policymakers and commentators have called for expanding Social Security benefits rather than slowing the program’s costs, suggesting that the program’s current shortfalls are modest and easily addressed. Below, we answer some questions about Social Security to help explain why many of these calls are misguided.
CBO's Long-Term Budget Outlook contains significant amounts of helpful data on Social Security. However, a lot of the data focus on just the outlays of the program; by contrast, reformers tend to focus more on its overall finances and the state of the trust fund. Today, CBO published some additional information on Social Security, showing both the program's full finances and, importantly, the ranges of uncertainty in their projections.
Yesterday, the Social Security Administration announced that beneficiaries will be receiving a 1.5 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) this year. Although this update is below the 1.7 percent increase provided this year and the 3.6 percent increase provided for 2012, it is reflective of the relatively low inflation experienced over the past year.
Although some argue that policymakers can wait to solve our long-term entitlement problems, CBO's recent Long-Term Budget Outlook suggests otherwise. According to their projections, the Social Security program is in particular trouble -- and much worse than we thought. According to CBO's latest projections, the trust fund will become insolvent three years earlier than what we previously thought, and its long-term funding gap is 50 percent larger.
Naturally, lawmakers are diverting their attention to resolving sequestration, the debt ceiling, and the expiring continuing resolution, but another important budget matter is only a couple of years away. The Social Security Disability Insurance Program will exhaust its trust fund by 2016, at which point benefits will either need to be cut by 20 percent or transfers will need to be made from the old-age fund, shortening its lifespan by two years (2035 to 2033).
While many in Washington are bracing for more partisan brinksmanship in the upcoming negotiations over the debt ceiling and a potential government shutdown, it is easy to overlook the fact that these fiscal debates present an opportunity for a bipartisan compromise on a comprehensive deficit reduction deal. This morning, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial making that case for including Social Security in the debate: