Avoid ‘peril’ — lift tax cap to boost Social Security

October 16, 2010

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YOUR OCT. 11 editorial “A basis for honest debate’’ declares that “the national treasury would be in peril [when] benefits promised Social Security recipients exceed projected revenues.’’ That cannot be. The law permits Social Security to pay benefits only when it has funds to do so, and does not permit Social Security to borrow. So, Social Security has not and cannot add to the national deficit.

Official projections show that Social Security has sufficient funds to pay benefits in full until 2037. Thereafter, the nonprofit National Academy of Social Insurance recently reported, there are several ways to assure full payment without cutting benefits. For example, pay subject to payroll tax (FICA) currently is capped at $106,800. Ending the cap would almost single-handedly assure program solvency for 75 years. Raising the payroll tax by one-twentieth a year starting in 2015 would decrease the funding shortfall by more than two-thirds. Meanwhile, earnings are projected to increase more than the FICA boost.

Stock market failures have drastically reduced the value of 401(k) plans and IRAs, making Social Security even more essential to protect seniors, the disabled, and their families from financial distress.

Merton C. Bernstein
The writer, Coles professor emeritus of law at Washington University in St. Louis, was principal consultant to the 1982-83 National Commission on Social Security Reform.

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