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Social Security Looms Over Senate Race

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By Hilary Appelman

With funding shortfalls possible in Medicare by 2028 and Social Security starting in 2034, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty expect that shoring up both programs will be a focus of the next Congress.

“Social Security in its current form is already insolvent,” Toomey, 54, a first-term senator and former congressman, told the AARP Bulletin by email. “The longer Congress waits to address these challenges, the harder it will become to fix.”

McGinty, 53, an environmental adviser in the Clinton administration and former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, noted Social Security’s crucial role. About a fifth of recipients rely on their benefits for at least 90 percent of their income. “Securing that income is vitally important,” she said in a phone interview.

The Pennsylvania race is being closely watched as one of a half-dozen contests nationally that will determine which party controls the Senate.

AARP’s Take a Stand campaign offers information at 2016takeastand.org on congressional and presidential candidates’ views on Social Security.

Raising tax cap
McGinty supports increasing Social Security revenues by raising the cap on the payroll tax, currently set at $118,500. That covers about 83 percent of all earnings, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. If the cap were increased to cover 90 percent of all earnings, NASI estimates it would reduce Social Security’s funding shortfall by 29 percent.

“That would go a long way to address concerns about the stability and viability of the Social Security program,” McGinty said.

Toomey favors a debate about “the wide range of options available to put Social Security on a secure footing.” He declined to say which reforms he supports, though he called for “getting federal spending under control so that the government never ‘borrows’ from Social Security revenues to pay for other expenditures.”

Previously, Toomey has championed creating an option for voluntary personal retirement accounts that would allow younger workers to put part of their Social Security taxes into alternative investments. He declined to say whether he still supports those private accounts.

Reforms must not affect retirees or those nearing retirement, Toomey said. McGinty would oppose attempts to cut benefits or raise the retirement age.

McGinty said she would consider other reform proposals and favors revising the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to keep pace with the real cost of living. She accused Toomey of wanting to privatize Social Security “and basically hand it over to Wall Street.”

Toomey said that “this type of rhetoric, which has already been used by my opponent, injects partisan hyperbole into the discussion and prevents Congress from accomplishing the type of reforms that are needed.”

He said he has tried to work with Democrats in Congress to strengthen and preserve Medicare. He cited his support of measures that changed the way Medicare pays doctors and allowed the expansion of pilot programs to help people stay in their homes.

A 2013 amendment by Toomey that never went to a vote would have blocked the government from using Medicare savings for other programs.

McGinty said she supports letting Medicare negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. She also wants to get consumers more information about health care costs.

“It’s not acceptable to me that everyone knows the price of a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk, but you don’t know the price of critical health and wellness procedures until after the bill comes in the mail,” she said.

Hilary Appelman is a writer living in State College, Pa.

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