U.S. Sen. Angus King gained attention this week as finer details continue to come out on his bipartisan effort to shore up Social Security’s finances, including a potential item that would raise the retirement age to 70.
Here’s what you need to know about the problem the group is trying to fix, why the effort is fraught and when you can expect something concrete.
Social Security is not exactly going broke, but it has huge problems.
With the Baby Boomer generation leaving the workforce, an unprecedented wave of retirements is expected between now and 2030. This has wide economic repercussions in Maine and across the country and big effects on Social Security, which provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits.
If Congress does nothing, one of the main funds holding up Social Security will be insolvent by 2033, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This does not mean the program will be broke. It means that benefits will be limited to the taxes coming in each year, adding up to a 23 percent benefit decrease.
Any stress on the program would have major effects in Maine, which is the nation’s oldest state by median age and has the second-highest share of beneficiaries among states behind West Virginia. The state also expects the senior share of population to double here between 2010 and 2038.
Fixes will be fraught with politics.
Nationally, Republicans have long advocated for raising the retirement age and doing other things to cull back future benefits, while Democrats generally favor scrapping a cap on wages that are taxable under Social Security. That now sits just above $160,000.
Maine has seen the politics of Social Security and Medicare up close. Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District won and lost campaigns that often focused on his support for Republican budgets that aimed to slim benefits, while he responded by saying he wanted no changes for current beneficiaries.
The Maine AFL-CIO has already criticized King for his focus on the issue. Complicating things further is that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are warning against eroding benefits.
But centrist Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has already criticized items from the King negotiations that have spilled into public view. For example, she said raising the retirement age would harm Mainers in physically demanding jobs.
King’s group has no proposal so far, but it is expected to sometime soon.
The Maine senator, an independent who is aligned with Democrats, is leading talks on the issue with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. Other dealmakers including Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, are involved in the discussions as well.
Spokespeople for King and Cassidy have underscored that there is no framework yet and that senators are sharing ideas at this stage. But a proposal is expected in the next few months, so discussions on the topic are getting real.
In a Friday statement aimed at countering what King and Cassidy called “incomplete and somewhat alarmist reports” on their work, they said there are “dozens of considerations” in the debate and that any deal would include protections for lower-wage workers.
“Under what we are discussing, millions would immediately receive more, and no one would receive less,” the two senators said.