One of the ever-present faces is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican who hasn't formally announced his candidacy for president, but is running hard anyway.
On Tuesday, in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, he outlined six changes he would make to improve Americans' ability to engage in retirement planning as well as strengthen Social Security and Medicare. Here's what he proposed:
- Give all workers without a retirement plan at their jobs the option of enrolling in the federal Thrift Savings Plan, which Rubio called, "one of the most efficient saving plans in America."
- Remove the 12.4 percent payroll tax for retirement-age workers that is currently paid by workers and their employers. Rubio said, "This would help older workers accelerate their savings ... and make them more attractive to employers."
- Get rid of the retirement earnings test on workers who are between the ages of 62 and 66. This test is effectively a 50 percent tax on workers who claim Social Security before full retirement age and who also work. Rubio said it is a policy that doesn't save any money. "When seniors hit by this tax finally retire, their benefits are hiked way up to make up for any loss caused by the retirement earnings test. ... We should eliminate this test altogether," Rubio said, citing some statistics that suggest this change would raise employment among early retirees by 5.3 percent, and increase income taxes collected without stealing jobs from younger workers. "Studies have shown that an increase in older workers actually boosts the number of jobs for younger workers," he said. "For every percentage point that the employment rate for older workers rises, youth employment rises by 0.21 percentage points," he insisted.
- Gradually raise the retirement age for younger workers without raising the age for people older than 55. "We're living five to 10 years longer than Social Security's earliest recipients," Rubio pointed out.
- Slow the rate of growth of Social Security benefits for people with higher incomes while increasing benefits for lower-earning retirees. "This isn't a cut," Rubio said.
- Adopt a Medicare hospital plan option that is similar to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan. These plans allow participants to choose among an array of private plans. The net result, Rubio said, would be more choice and less spending. This would dramatically extend choices while making sure traditional Medicare remains an option. It would give people a generous fixed amount of money that they could use to buy traditional Medicare or private insurance. "This way, if seniors choose plans that cost more than the benchmark, they would have to pay the difference. If they choose cheaper plans, they would get to keep the savings."
We'll see how this plays out as the 2016 presidential election gets closer. In the meantime, Rubio and other candidates for this office should remember that, according to the U.S. Census, 71.9 percent of those 65 and older reported that they voted in the 2012 presidential election.
A word to the wise: When it comes to reforming Social Security and Medicare, saying the wrong thing could spell the end of a political career.
Besides the retirement earnings test, there are five other Social Security traps to avoid.