By Alan Greenblatt
Both candidates running for U.S. Senate in Missouri say they support Social Security. Neither is talking about making sweeping changes to the program.
Roy Blunt, 66, the incumbent Republican, and Jason Kander, 35, Missouri’s Democratic secretary of state, say they want to ensure that Social Security will continue to pay out promised benefits.
Nearly a quarter of Missouri residents 65 or older rely on the program for 90 percent or more of their income. According to a recent population survey, the average Social Security retirement benefit in the state was $1,315 in 2015.
If Congress does not act, the program will be able to pay only about 75 percent of promised benefits after 2034. And Medicare is at risk of running short of funds in 2028.
The AARP Bulletin asked the two candidates to weigh in on Social Security and Medicare, and both campaigns responded by email.
Although they are not calling for major structural changes, they hope to find savings elsewhere.
Blunt chairs the Senate subcommittee that sets spending levels for the agencies in charge of Social Security and Medicare. He backs legislation to tackle “waste, fraud and abuse” in the programs, notably in the area of disability coverage.
In this year’s budget, Blunt is seeking $1.8 billion for the Social Security Administration to conduct more thorough reviews of disability applications, which he said has the potential to save $11 billion over 10 years by ferreting out dubious claims.
“Efforts to improve the disability insurance program are a critical part of reforming Social Security,” Blunt said.
Kander is also calling for savings from wasteful federal programs to help shore up Social Security. He wants to close tax loopholes for companies that move jobs overseas and eliminate spending on projects such as a $400 million ship the Pentagon has deemed “not reliable” but which Congress appears ready to order.
“That combination of savings could go a long way to helping make Social Security solvent,” said Anne Feldman, his campaign press secretary.
Benefit Cuts Possible
Kander has criticized Blunt for previously favoring a partial privatization of Social Security. In 2005, President George W. Bush proposed allowing workers to divert portions of their payroll taxes into individual retirement accounts, an idea Blunt backed as part of the House Republican leadership team. Blunt insisted at the time that no changes should be made that would affect individuals who were already 55 or older.
He said in 2010 that he remained open to the idea of individual Social Security accounts. His position hasn’t changed, but he has maintained for years that it’s not a viable issue for anyone.
Through its Take a Stand campaign, AARP has been pressing candidates to make protecting Social Security a top priority. Go to 2016takeastand.org to see the positions of presidential and congressional candidates.
On Medicare, Kander favors allowing the government to use its marketplace clout to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, something Blunt opposes. Blunt has also objected to proposals from the Obama administration to reduce federal subsidies for Medicare Advantage private insurance programs.
AARP does not endorse candidates or contribute to campaigns, but seeks to inform voters about the issues.
Voters can learn more about the Missouri candidates’ positions in the AARP voter guide at aarp.org/yourvote.
Alan Greenblatt is a writer living in St. Louis.