8 Questions About Social Security Answered as Election Day Nears

More than 170 House Democrats, nearly the entire caucus, have co-sponsored a bill by Representative John B. Larson of Connecticut that would generally increase benefits by 2 percent (more for people with lower lifetime income; less for those with higher incomes), set a minimum benefit for low-income earners and adopt a potentially faster-rising cost of inflation adjustment than the one now in effect because it takes into account that older people tend to spend proportionally more on medical care.

To pay for those changes and for the coming shortfall, the legislation would apply payroll taxes to wages above $400,000 (not indexed for inflation, meaning that, eventually, all earnings would be covered). It would also gradually raise the payroll tax over 24 years by 1.2 percentage points to 7.4 percent for workers and employers.

Although Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas, is retiring, a bill he introduced in 2016 includes the types of changes that Republicans typically support. Among other things, it would gradually raise the age at which retirees can claim full benefits to 69.

In practice, that would amount to a significant benefit cut, according to an analysis by Melissa M. Favreault, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who studies social insurance programs and models the effects of different policy changes. Based on the Social Security Administration’s actuaries’ review of Mr. Johnson’s proposal, Ms. Favreault calculates that a retiree would either have to forgo two years of benefits, or receive a check that was 13.3 percent smaller at 67. This change would affect people born in 1968 and later. Those born from 1961 to 1967 would see smaller cuts. (Mr. Johnson’s office confirmed the accuracy of Ms. Favreault’s calculations.)

Mr. Johnson’s proposal would also change the benefit formula so that higher-than-average earners would receive less while the lowest earners got more. Another provision would cut benefits for people who had more variable earnings or people who spent long periods not working, Ms. Favreault said. The plan also proposes using a cost-of-living adjustment that grows more slowly, and the creation of a minimum benefit.

A couple of relatively recent actions would hurt the trust fund slightly over the next decade, but would have a negligible long-term effect. The tax law enacted last year has a “significant net negative effect” over the next 10 years, according to the 2018 annual trustees’ report, and the proposed elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, would also reduce program revenue.

The last time Congress made significant adjustments to close a shortfall, in 1983, both Democrats and Republicans had to make concessions. Some policy experts said they believed the parties were more polarized now, making such an agreement more difficult.

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