Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, has put forward a bill with a set of reforms to Social Security that the Social Security actuaries say will cover the program’s long term shortfall. However, while there is some overlap, the mix of reforms it proposes is at odds with the mix proposed by a representative sample of voters in a recent in-depth survey conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC).
In Johnson’s proposed Social Security Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 6489), nearly all reforms involved substantial benefit cuts, with no increases in revenue. However, large majorities of voters, Republicans as well as Democrats, favored more modest benefit cuts and a greater emphasis on revenue increases.
Retirement Age: Johnson’s bill would raise the full retirement age to 69. In the survey, 79 percent of survey respondents (81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats) approve of raising the full retirement age gradually to 68, but majorities reject raising it beyond 68.
Reducing Benefit Payments: The bill would reduce benefit payments for the upper 50 percent of earners. Seventy-six percent of voters approve of reducing benefits for the top 25 percent of lifetime earners (favored by 72 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats). However, a majority reject going any further by reducing benefits for the top 40 percent; only 13 percent want to reduce them for the top 50 percent.
COLA: The proposal would use “chained CPI,” a method of recalculating the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment, which tends to reduce benefits over time. Only a third of the public approve of using chained CPI.
Raising Cap on Taxable Income: Johnson’s plan does not include this, or any step that would raise revenue. However, the voters’ most popular option in addressing the projected shortfall is to raise the cap on income subject to the payroll tax, taking it up to $215K. It has 88 percent support nationally, including 84 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats. A majority (59 percent) wants to eliminate the cap altogether, including 54 percent of Republicans.
Payroll Tax: The proposal makes no changes to the payroll tax. However, 76 percent of respondents would raise the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.6 percent (72 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats). Majorities did not favor larger increases.
Minimum benefit: The bill also proposes an increase to the minimum benefit. Nearly six-in-ten support increasing the minimum Social Security benefit (nationally 58 percent, including 49 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats).
“While Americans agree with Congressman Johnson’s effort to address the Social Security shortfall, his mix of reforms is at odds with the solution they favor,” said PPC Director Steven Kull.
Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker, giving them essential information and presenting key arguments on both sides of each issue. The content of the simulation was vetted for accuracy and balance by Republican and Democratic congressional staffers, as well as experts from the National Academy of Social Insurance and the American Enterprise Institute.
Once the survey results are released, a public version of the policymaking simulation is posted at vop.org for anyone to try. Citizens are encouraged to go through the simulation and then share their recommendations with their congressional representatives at: http://research.cfrinc.net/vop16159pub/
The Citizen Cabinet panel of 8,697 respondents was primarily drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough’s probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households). Additional recruiting by telephone and mail was conducted by Communication for Research, the University of Virginia Survey Research Center and the University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory. The margin of error is +/- 1.4 percent. State samples: Calif. 566 (MoE +/- 4.1 percent); Fla. 657 (+/- 3.8 percent); Md. 535 (+/- 4.2 percent); N.Y. 594 (+/- 4 percent); Ohio 434 (+/- 4.7 percent); Okla. 506 (+/- 4.4 percent); Texas 519 (+/- 4.3 percent); and Va. 525 (+/- 4.2 percent).
The report can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS_2016_Report.pdf
The full questionnaire can be found at: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS2016_Quaire.pdf