Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney has addressed the vexing question of how the US copes with its ageing population, suggesting that retirement benefits may have to be cut for younger Americans.
In comments to the Senate budget committee on Wednesday, the Republican senator from Utah said that the spiraling costs of retirement programs had to be tackled to bring national debt under control. Romney raised the politically controversial idea of cutting benefits, but only for younger generations before they reach retirement age.
“For younger people coming along, we got to be able to find a way to balance these programs or we’re gonna find ourselves in a heap of trouble,” he said. He added that he was not in favour of raising taxes as a way of balancing the books, but was open to adjusting “long-term benefits not for current retirees”.
Romney’s remarks, first reported by Business Insider, open a can of worms often avoided by members of Congress given its intense political sensitivities. The programs in question include two of the most popular benefits in the country – social security and Medicare, which make up more than 40% of government spending.
The backdrop to the issue is America’s ageing population. By 2034 projections suggest there will be 77 million Americans aged 65 and older – more than the projected 76.5 million under 18s.
That means that for the first time in US history older people will outnumber children.
That same year, 2034, the trust fund for social security is expected to run out, leaving the US government struggling to make full benefit payments. That looming deadline is a reflection of the intense and rising pressure on social security and Medicare given long-term funding shortfalls.
Conservatives have consistently tried to chip away at the programs. Most recently, House Republicans proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 69 and social security from 67 to 69.
But in his Build Back Better plan, Joe Biden sought to protect and even extend the programs, adding hearing coverage to Medicare. The bill passed the House but was stalled in the US Senate.