Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Credit: Matt Rourke / AP

U.S. Sen. Angus King is aiming for a bipartisan deal that could ensure Social Security’s solvency in part by raising the retirement age, a notable move for a politician from the nation’s oldest state.

King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is working on a Social Security plan with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. It has not been released yet, but the news outlet Semafor reported Tuesday that it could include raising the retirement age from 67 to roughly 70, among other items aimed at extending the life of a program expected to be insolvent by 2033.

Though the plan is not final yet and could be offset with benefit increases, it seems unlikely to land well with Democrats who have long attacked Republican plans to shrink future benefits. King’s early stance is also notable for putting him to the political right of the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation on the crucial issue of age.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, shares King and Cassidy’s concerns about Social Security but had “serious reservations” about the key elements of the plan, she said in a statement. Raising the age to 70 would be difficult for Mainers in physically demanding jobs, while the income of wealthy Americans would be largely untouched, she said.

“That strikes me as regressive and unfair,” Collins said.

Maine had the second-highest share of Social Security beneficiaries among states in 2021, with more than a quarter of the population receiving retirement, disability or survivor benefits, behind only West Virginia. Nationally, the average monthly benefit is roughly $1,700.

Those demographics have put Social Security and Medicare, the public health care program for seniors, in a revered place in Maine politics. Major campaigns for federal office usually include jousting over which candidate would leave the programs in the best standing, including the 2020 U.S. Senate election and races for the swing 2nd Congressional District over the past decade.

Three years ago, Collins was attacked by Democrats and their nominee, then-House Speaker Sara Gideon, in ads that linked Collins’ support for Republicans’ 2017 tax-cuts bill to potential cuts to Social Security and Medicaid later. Those policy areas were not directly linked, and Collins said she opposed cuts to both programs.

The two Democrats representing Maine in Congress have held orthodox stances on Social Security. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District has long sponsored legislation to repeal the cap on wages taxable under Social Security, now sitting just above $160,000.

“As Republicans plan to cut, privatize and even end Social Security, our best option is to sunset the cap and protect the hard-earned benefits of older Mainers,” Pingree said in a Tuesday statement.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District calls himself a “staunch defender” of the program. In his 2018 and 2022 campaigns against former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Golden hit the Republican for backing a 2015 plan targeting billions in Social Security savings while Poliquin said he backed no changes for current beneficiaries. Golden’s office declined comment on King’s plan.

The political difficulty stretches all the way up to presidential politics. President Joe Biden’s plan for Social Security pairs higher payroll taxes on high earners with benefit increases, while former President Donald Trump is urging Republicans to not touch benefits as other potential 2024 candidates like former Vice President Mike Pence say cuts should be on the table.

Even though the plan has an uncertain path, progressives are mobilizing against it early on. Social Security Works, a liberal group, hammered it on Twitter, saying it amounted to a massive benefit cut. Cassidy has nodded to the difficulty of negotiating over the subject, telling The Times-Picayune in his home state last week that politics is slowing a solution.

Semafor has outlined other changes being considered as part of the package, including a sovereign wealth fund that would invest borrowed government money to defray some costs of the program. A King spokesperson said bipartisan talks on the issue continue. He is preparing to run for a third term in 2024 that would make him Maine’s oldest-ever senator.

“Although the final framework is still taking shape, there are no cuts for Americans currently receiving Social Security benefits in our plan,” spokespeople for King and Cassidy said in a statement to Semafor. “Indeed, many will receive additional benefits.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...