CEDAR RAPIDS — Heading into the final year of his Senate career before retirement, Sen. Tom Harkin is calling for reforms to Social Security to extend the life of the program and increase benefits to recipients.
Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, has frequently warned of a “staggering crisis” in retirement security. There is a $6.6 trillion gap between what people have saved, what’s available in private pensions and Social Security and their retirement income needs, he said Thursday.
He has proposed changes to raise Social Security benefits about $65 a month, alter the cost-of-living calculation for benefits and increase the amount high earners pay into the 78-year-old program. The changes, Harkin said, would extend the life of the Social Security trust fund to 2049.
The opposition the proposal has received “highlights a profound disconnect between Washington and folks outside the Beltway,” Harkin said.
“Back in Iowa, the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. But in Washington, the “so-called Serious People — we call them SPs — are determined to slash Social Security benefits and place the burden of deficit reduction on senior citizens.”
“The Serious People are seriously out of touch,” according to Harkin.
In Iowa, he said, 30 percent of Iowa retirees sole source of income is Social Security and 41 percent of Iowa seniors would be living below the poverty line without Social Security. That’s higher than the national average of one-third.
Overall, about 400,000 Iowans receive an average of $14,000 a year in Social Security benefits.
“The idea of slashing that benefit, I think, is unconscionable,” Harkin said.
His plan also would remove the wage cap that “unfairly protects high earners from paying payroll taxes at the same rate as middle-class workers.” That would help sustain the program, which is solvent now, but faces significant deficits in future decades.
Despite what its detractors say, Social Security is fully paid for and “has never contributed a dime to the deficit or the debt,” Harkin said.
Social Security, Harkin concluded, “is the most-efficient and most-effective federal program in our nation’s history, and we should keep it that way.”