“I know of no Republican or Democrat in the House or the Senate who is proposing cutting Social Security benefits,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) steamed from his perch at the Senate Budget Committee hearing Wednesday. “And it’s dishonest to keep saying it. It’s offensive and dishonest, and not realistic.”
Here’s Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) just a few days ago on CNN, responding to Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s call to raise Social Security’s retirement age: “I think that’s something that has to be on the table.”
Or Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) Sunday on Fox News: “Does it really make sense to allow someone who’s in their 20s today to retire at 62? Those are the kinds of things that we should talk about.”
And those are just examples from the past week, at a time when Republicans are particularly wary about advocating for cuts to the programs. Democrats are salivating for more chances to pin such cuts on the opposing party, a policy stance that is extremely unpopular across the board. Republican politicians often — as both Mace and Kennedy did — add that the cuts they’re pushing would only apply to young people, not to current or soon-to-be retirees. Their stance without such a caveat would be political suicide for a party that depends so heavily on the support of older voters.
And in the background of these comments, a group of senators including Angus King (I-ME) — who caucuses with the Democrats — and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) are also reportedly mulling a plan that would involve lifting the retirement age.
If you back up in time a bit, even just months to a year ago, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Republican eager to hike the Social Security retirement age.
“We’re going to have to adjust the age one more time like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last year.
Early in 2023, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) told the Washington Post that Congress should discuss changing the retirement age for a “child who has not paid a single dollar in payroll taxes.”
And Hern’s Republican Study Committee, the biggest group of GOP lawmakers in the House, proposed in its budget for 2023 lifting the retirement age to 70 for younger workers.
Even Romney himself suggested last year that he’d favor cutting benefits over raising taxes: ‘If we’re ever going to get a handle on our debt, we’re gonna have to find a way to either increase revenue, which I don’t favor, or find a way to adjust our long-term benefits not for current retirees.”
Republicans have a whole arsenal of rhetoric to avoid calling for “cuts,” including using words like “reform” or “adjust.” But raising the retirement age is undeniably a benefit cut, despite the outrage those like Romney feign at the assertion.
The Social Security Administration has said that “As the age for collecting full Social Security benefits increases, persons who retire at age 62 will see a greater reduction in their Social Security benefits.”
The retirement age for full benefits has already been raised through the 1983 amendments; people born in 1960 or later only get the full benefits at 67, not 65. When the full benefit kicked in at 65, people could retire at 62 and get the full benefit minus 20 percent. That cut of initial benefits for 62-year-olds grows to 30 percent when the full benefit is delayed until 67.
Raising the retirement age means a deeper cut in benefits both for those claiming them early and those who wait until they can get the full benefit, per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The think tank estimates that raising the retirement age to 70 would leave those retiring at 62 with only 57 percent of their monthly benefit — a significant loss, since a huge portion of beneficiaries claim those benefits early.
Some have also pointed out that a higher retirement age exposes social inequalities: low-income people tend not to live as long as high-income people, and Social Security benefits make up a greater percentage of income for low-income retirees, meaning cuts would hit that group harder.
Republicans seem more comfortable advocating a higher retirement age as a cut that doesn’t quite read like a cut, a policy change that they can propose while also expressing rage at Democrats’ accusation that they want to roll back benefits. But raising the Social Security retirement age simply is a cut, and one Republicans are going on TV to support even in this hostile environment, when public opposition to cuts is clear.