Social Security Model Must Change

Virtually all Americans rely on the Social Security program or will once they reach the age at which they need income to replace paychecks they no longer receive. No wonder the system has been referred to as the third rail of politics – any president or member of Congress touching it dies politically at the next election.

But it has been done, and tens of millions of Americans have good reason to be grateful for the political courage and skill the late President Ronald Reagan and the late House of Representatives Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill showed in the mid-1980s.

Social Security was in trouble then, with insolvency on the horizon. But the Republican Reagan and the Democrat O’Neill put aside their many partisan differences to craft a reform measure that added decades to the program’s health.

But today, on the program’s 80th birthday, Social Security faces even more profound difficulties.

Many opponents of reform argue substantive changes in how the nation provides for older people are not fair. But fairness has nothing to do with it.

The mostly inflexible math is this: As Social Security is structured now, it will run out of money to pay retirement benefits sometime around 2035.

Reform measures have been suggested, but very few in Washington want to be the first to embrace them. They fear voters will be infuriated.

Undoubtedly, many will be. But unless Social Security’s unsustainable model is changed, the ultimate unfairness will occur: It will fold entirely.