Photo by George Lauby
Senate candidate Bob Kerrey braved criticism Monday, announcing a plan to reform Social Security and help put the U.S. “on a sustainable path toward a balanced budget.”
Kerrey's plan would cut some benefits but increase benefits for the most vulnerable. He announced the proposal at an Omaha press conference. It would solidify social security for at least 75 years.
Kerrey, 68, said reforming "entitlements" such as social security, medicare and medicaid are difficult but absolutely necessary to bring the budget into balance.
“As a fiscally conservative Democrat, I believe I can contribute to getting this done,” he said. “I became a candidate for the Senate because I believe I can contribute to a bipartisan Congressional agreement.”
“Nothing will do more to improve consumer, business and investor confidence,” he said.
Kerrey is prepared to take criticism for advocating specific Social Security reforms during the campaign.
“It’s controversial,” he said. “You present a target. That’s why no one (in Congress) is currently sponsoring a solution.”
Kerrey said that Democrats in particular should lead on this issue, and he told the Bulletin that doesn’t want to run under false pretenses.
The plan would:
• Gradually increase the age that people receive normal payments from 67 to 69 by 2075.
• Collect social security taxes on incomes above $106,000 a year, which are currently exempt.
• Create a hardship exemption by which people age 62 would receive benefits if they cannot work.
Increase payments up to 5 percent for elderly who live into their late 80s. Also, increase payments up to 5 percent for the long-term disabled.
• Slightly slow the rate at which social security benefits grow, by adjusting the way the consumer price index is tied to rates.
• Gradually put state and local government employees who have a separate pension plan into the social security program. The change would begin in 2020. State and local employees hired then and thereafter would pay into the Social Security plan.
• Put all three social security funds together – old age, survivor’s and disability.
• Crack down on fraud, such as able bodied people who receive social security disability payments. Social Security overpayments amounted to $1.4 billion in 2010, Kerrey said.
• Add another bracket for recipients, so higher income recipients receive a little less social security benefits.
Kerrey studied Social Security reform in depth in the 1990s, when he co-chaired a national commission as a Senator.
Kerrey said opponent Deb Fischer tied her own hands by taking the Grover Norquist pledge to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business."
The Norquist pledge also opposes "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
That means she would not support collecting social security taxes on incomes above $106,000, Kerrey said.
“You have to have the guts to cut spending and raise taxes,” he said.
Fischer was quick to criticize Kerrey's plan Tuesday. She noted that it includes higher taxes for those who make more than $106,000 a year, and Kerrey has said he does not favor more taxes on "the middle class."