By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Bielat grabs third rail

It should be interesting to see how this plays out. Last night, in a Fourth District congressional debate on “Greater Boston” (WGBH-TV, Channel 2), host Emily Rooney asked Republican candidate Sean Bielat about Social Security. Bielat happily dove in, responding that not only does he want to see the program partially privatized, but that he could support raising the retirement age as high as 72.

See for yourself — if you don’t want to watch the entire debate, scroll ahead to 20:30.

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  1. And Bielat also totally ducked the question of how, if you partially privatize Social Security, you’d be able to continue to pay benefits for current retirees.

  2. Steve Stein

    Time to ask Scott Brown more questions:
    – Do you support Bielat’s call for increased retirement age and other changes to Social Security?
    – Do you support other Republicans’ call for repealing the minimum wage? Do you think the minumum wage is unconstitutional? (Linda McMahon, Chris Dudley, Joe Miller, John Raese have all called for minimum wage repeal.)

  3. Bill Duncliffe

    Dan – Is your opinion that raising the retirement age to 72 is a bad option for saving Social Security?

    If so, what’s your alternative? If so, how do you justify not doing so in an era of an ever-increasing life span?

    Bielat also supports means testing for Social Security.

    I suppose if you want to base your support for a candidate on his “Help (me) stop Sean Bielat from raising the retirement age for Social Security” so-called pledge you can but most people who give any thought to this topic realize that there has to be more thought than that.

    “Help me stop…” hardly qualifies on that front.

  4. Al Fiantaca

    When you’re not dependent on Social Security for the bulk your retirement income, you can easily throw out these kind of ideas. For the rest of us, we need it secure, and at a decent age. Privatizing it is not secure, as the past two years have demonstrated, and 72 is an outrageous age to suggest for retirement.

  5. Laurence Glavin

    I almost felt sorry for Bielat. When Emily questioned him directly, he uttered a couple of simple declarative sentences and then went quiet. When Barney was the recipient of a question, he replied in compound-complex sentences with specific facts and references. Finally, at the 20-muinute point in the “debate”, Emily even said “Barney, you’ve been talking far more that Scott”. Duh…the latter didn’t have anything more to say than the boilerplate that he hopes will get him through November 2nd.

  6. meanwhile, in France, there have been strikes to protest Sarkozy raising the age for pensions from 60 to 62.

    I wonder what would happen in this country if a serious effort to raise the age happened? Or even partially privatize it?

    Maybe my grasp of economics is tenuous but perhaps raising the cap for Social Security, even a bit, might help? So that someone making millions per year doesn’t pay the same amount as someone making $106,800? I’m not holding my breath about that happening anytime soon.

  7. C.E. Stead

    @Al – the age WAS raised, back in the 1980’s. 1943 and later, you must be 66; 1952 and later, you must be 67. It was a treat to see Keating’s face when Perry mentioned on NECN that he might not be able to retire at 67, as he is advocating 65 for everybody forever.

    Bielat and Perry are both advocating the same thing – anyone over age 50 is held harmless in the current plan. Younger than 50, look at an additional year for full benefits as was done in the 80’s. I think we can ALL agree that life expentancy has incresed since 65 was chosen in the 1930’s – life expectancy THEN was 62! So the program was never really MEANT to pay off to everybody, as any actuary could tell you.

    Part of the reason I worked for GW Bush in 2000 was some of the speeches he gave about Social Security – I was actually present for a long one in New Hampshire, and it was interesting to hear it unexcerpted and unedited. The details of his privatization have been blurred with time, but here are a few points. Again, reforms would affect only younger workers. They would be allowed to divert a PERCENTAGE of their Social Security into approved investment vehicles, similar to a 401(k), which is not available to most workers. To be sure, there is a potential for loss, but money invested in that way when a worker is in their 20’s stands an excellent chance of recouping a ‘paper loss’ before the worker begins to draw on it 40-50 years later. And BTW – Bush favored asset testing and a higher cap on wages for contribution as well.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Paul Krugman, who has one more Nobel Prize in Economics than anyone here, has been arguing for years that Social Security is in far better shape than conservatives claim.

  8. It’s also worth noting that Marsh Carter, former CEO of State Street Bank and Trust Company, now chairman of the board of the New York Stock Exchange, used to be a major advocate of privatization of Social Security and wrote a book about it. He has since changed his mind.

  9. Al Fiantaca

    I know that the retirement age for SS has been raised before. I also am over 60 and will not be affected by any change. I still think that an age as high as 72 is too much, particularly when government based employment pensions never enter into the conversation.

  10. C.E. Stead

    @Al – Social Security is also part of my household income, and I too would not be affected. But it’s been twenty years since any adjustment was made – isn’t it time? We’d have to skip 1962, perhapts, but how about 1973 at 68? 1983 at 69? That would be 2052, enough time to save and make adjustments to retirement pensions. (Full disclosure – my youngest was born in 1983, so it would affect me and mine). When you look at it that way, 72 doesn’t look so unrealistic, as God knows what life expectancy will be in the second half of the Twenty-First century.

    As far as government pensions go, you have to remember that MA is one of only a handful of states where government workers aren’t ALREADY on Social Security. Obviously, MA should be too, but the public unions are too strong here to allow that. Government pensions aren’t really a national issue the way Social Security is.

    There HAS to be a mean between no change never for nobody and over the hills to the poorhouse.

  11. Dan Storms

    DK is correct: SS can pay full benefits until at least 2037, and 70% benefits thereafter, from current revenue stream. SS funds have been used to fund all sorts of things both good and evil, but the IOUs are Treasury securities. How many out there believe that the U.S. government will default on its bonds and notes? The best method for securing SS (and Medicare, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance, too) is to lift the artificial barriers on the amount of income not subject to FICA (currently north of around $109K, I believe)and the source of income (reserving FICA as a payroll tax only allows millions in anual income, e.g., from cap gains and other investment sources, to escape scott free). I’d sooner trust to that then to the fickle stock market as a retirement fix.

  12. Bill Duncliffe

    Bob Pozen, who has been responsible for billions more in assets than Paul Krugman has, says it isn’t.

  13. Laurence Kranich

    There are approximately 14 million people in the US between the ages of 65 and 72. The US economy has lost 8 million jobs in the recession, and those people want their jobs back. Plus I’m sure many of the underemployed 20-somethings would like to move up from their part time contract jobs too. How are we going to make all those people happy and rehire 14 million over-65 geezers? Good luck with that.

  14. Al Fiantaca

    Bielat wasn’t referencing 72 years of age for retirement for 2052. He wants this kind of change, as soon as possible. I know what you’re saying about a possible life expectancy 40 years into the future making 72 potentially not so unreasonable then. But, that is not now, and that’s not why Republican candidates continue to attack Social Security. It’s a battle they have been waging for 75 years. If it were just an argument of dollars and years, it would be one thing, but this is an argument of philosophy.

  15. BP Myers

    It’s instructive to remember that the Social Security Trust Fund has been running surpluses for years, and that the “crisis” in Social Security, forecast to come about in the 2037-2041 date range, refers to the date when those surpluses end.

    I’m unaware of there being a “Defense Budget Trust Fund,” running surpluses year after year. No, we fund the defense budget annually from the taxes collected.

    And if we have to do the same for Social Security (Krugman foresees if that’s the case, then the impact on the budget would increase SS from 4.8% of the budget to 6% of the budget) then so be it.

    Perhaps by 2041, we won’t be empire building, or subsidizing the defense of hundreds of other nations, and there’ll be more than enough money left over for, you know, Americans.

  16. Mike Benedict

    I think what needs to happen is a large discussion on what, exactly, Social Security is supposed to be in the 21st Century. FDR instituted it as a safety net, not a retirement plan. Today, it is perceived in many quarters to be more of the latter. And we get caught up in this endless debate over whether SS should be COLA-indexed, or the age of eligibility, or whether it should be privatized, or whether receipts should be taxed, or *egad* whether the national account is solvent.

    The question I’d like to see addressed include whether the US should be in the business of fully* supporting its retirees, and if not, how much support (in any) should the US give them? (Personally, I’d be ecstatic to do away with the whole damn thing. All those people who spend their day calling talk radio and complaining about “them people”** with their hands perpetually out will have to go and get jobs. Bully that!)

    *I’m defining “fully” as providing a living stipend plus medical. And yes, I realize SS and Medicare are different things.
    **Code for blacks, Hispanics and anyone else not related to them or white.

  17. BP Myers

    @Mike Benedict says: All those people who spend their day calling talk radio and complaining about “them people”** with their hands perpetually out will have to go and get jobs. Bully that!

    What jobs?

    Ironic too that in a comment designed to slam people for prejudice and bigotry, you display naked prejudice and bigotry.

    Finally, I think the average Social Security recipient receives about $1200 dollars a month. From what I can tell, most are grateful to get it and do not have their hands out for more.

    People who call in to talk radio shows are not representative of anything.

  18. Mike Benedict

    @BP: “What jobs.”

    All those jobs I keep hearing the private sector is so damned good about creating! Duh.

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