It might surprise many in Washington, but if you ask hardworking Americans what their greatest economic concern is they don't say budget deficits or the national debt. No, what I hear most often from Americans is that they are frightened at the prospect of being financially insecure in retirement.
By some estimates, the gap between what Americans have saved for retirement and what they need to maintain their standard of living in retirement stands at $6.6 trillion. Despite this, every spring when the Social Security Trustees' annual report is published, the usual suspects take to the airwaves to blame Social Security for our budget problems and urge deep cuts to the program, something that would make the retirement crisis even worse.
While not surprising, it is disappointing to see Social Security come under unwarranted attack, year after year. Here are the facts:
• The Social Security Trust Fund can pay full benefits until 2033. That's another 20 years.
• Social Security is financed by its own revenue stream, the payroll tax and, by law, it cannot add to the deficit. Since the payroll tax will still be collected, even after 2033, Social Security will be able to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits going forward, assuming that Congress would take no action to address this problem.
Rather than take this as a signal to slash Social Security benefits, it tells me that we need to make the program stronger so that it provides tens of millions of Americans assurance that their golden years will be financially secure. That's why, as part of the Rebuild America Act, comprehensive legislation I recently introduced to help restore the American middle class, I included an ambitious Social Security proposal that stands in stark contrast to those who claim that the only way to save Social Security is by cutting benefits.
To strengthen America's retirement system, my proposal would increase Social Security benefits and greatly improve the financial stability of the program. It does so by:
• Increasing the amount of earnings covered by higher replacement rates in order to increase benefits by approximately $60-70 per month
• Changing the way the COLA is calculated so that it better corresponds to the typical expenses of seniors
• Removing the cap, currently $110,100, that unfairly protects the highest earning Americans from paying into Social Security like the majority of hardworking Americans.
All told, according to the Social Security Actuary, this proposal would extend the life of the Social Security Trust Fund to 2052 while cutting the long term funding deficit in half.
Quite simply, we don't have to slash benefits to make the program financially stronger.
Social Security is the most successful program in our nation's history. It is not in crisis. With sensible steps, like those in my legislation, we can make the program stronger and ensure greater financial security in retirement for generations to come.
This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post.