Congressional candidates venture into Social Security

by Walter Pierce

For the first time in more than two decades, Social Security is doling out more in benefits than it's collecting from payrolls - and candidates in the 3rd Congressional District are coming to blows over the issue.

For the first time in more than two decades, Social Security is doling out more in benefits than it's collecting from payrolls - and candidates in the 3rd Congressional District are coming to blows over the issue, even though they agree on a few of the central aspects.

As it stands, certain individuals can get early benefits at 62, but the full benefits for the general public don't kick in until age 67. Many lawmakers on the federal level, however, are pushing for a bigger number.

Neither Republican Jeff Landry, a businessman and attorney from New Iberia, nor Democrat Ravi Sangisetty, an attorney from Houma, want to see any major changes to the age cap for folks nearing retirement. But the devil is in the details, as they say, when it comes to Social Security.

Based on the findings of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, nearly 23 percent of Social Security's financial gap would be closed if the minimum age of eligibility were increased to 68 and a third would be buried if the age were 70. Right now, there's even a presidential study commission working up a number of its own recommendations - on this, the 75th anniversary of Social Security.

"My position on Social Security is clear," Sangisetty says. "We must protect the promise we've made to our seniors. We cannot raise the retirement age, reduce benefits or cut cost of living increases." He has not released any other details on what he would do to shore up Social Security.

While Landry says he personally feels like the retirement age should be increased in general, he opposes raising the program's age cap specifically for people who would benefit in the near future from Social Security. In a recent mailer to voters, Landry promised to "not change or raise the retirement age for any worker nearing retirement" and "to shore up the system by making changes without raising taxes."

Landry says he is also interested in exploring the impact of raising the program's age cap for future participants, rather than those about to enter the program, and wants to see a study conducted on whether private citizens can receive special benefits as part of the Social Security program as members of Congress do under the Federal Employees' Retirement System.

Both Sangisetty and Landry have promised not to accept any special perks or retirement benefits if elected to Congress.

On the whole, there does seem to be some public support for making serious changes to Social Security. According to a Bloomberg News survey released last week, 72 percent would "consider" and 31 percent "strongly consider" removing the Social Security tax cap so that wages over $107,000 a year are subject to the tax. Lumping those two polling categories together, 60 percent would at least consider privatizing Social Security and another 64 percent would consider raising the minimum age. The topics were broached with participants as ways to reduce the federal budget deficit.

More than 100,000 individuals in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes portions of Acadiana, receive Social Security benefits. During the past quarter century, Social Security built a surplus of $2.5 trillion, but that surplus shrank as the federal government borrowed from it to fund other programs, Sangisetty argues.

Today, trustees predict Social Security will be out of money in fewer than 30 years, he adds. "Washington stole from our future when they borrowed from Social Security," Sangisetty says. "We need to recommit to our obligation to seniors and our children, we need to make sure Social Security sees its 150th anniversary."

Landry, for his part, says he would not ignore threats to the solvency of Social Security and is open to investigating changes. "I also understand that there is a need for a modernized secured retirement system that gives more freedom to today's workers," he says, "a system that workers can use to build secure wealth and prosperity for their retirement and their posterity."