Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told "ABC News" on Sunday that the White House doesn't want to mix fixing Social Security with other budget changes to avoid going off the "fiscal cliff."
"We're prepared to, in a separate process, look at how to strengthen Social Security," Geithner said on ABC's "This Week." "But not as part of a process to reduce the other deficits the country faces."
Can we really separate Social Security from other debts that cost more than we can afford to pay? How will doing that affect our retirement planning and the financial security of our personal retirement long term? Nothing good, I fear.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that in 2012, spending for Social Security totaled $773 billion, about 5 percent of gross domestic product, or GDP, and 20 percent of total federal spending. Over the next decade, the CBO predicts the cost of Social Security will exceed what we pay by about 10 percent a year. By 2030, it calculates that the amount Social Security is committed to paying out each year will exceed what is paid in by 20 percent.
That's a lot of money. Like it or not, Social Security is really too big a piece of the pie to separate from the rest of the fiscal cliff issues.
The easiest way to solve a big chunk of the total problem is to raise the Social Security full retirement age from 67 to 70. That delay would trim the amount Social Security pays out by 13 percent a year, the CBO says.
This isn't the only way to fix Social Security. There are others. Two ideas suggested most frequently include raising the cap on contributions, which will be $113,700 in 2013, and changing the way cost of living adjustments are calculated, lowering the COLA to better reflect how people cope with rising prices.
None of these ideas or even a combination of them is painless, but neither is the prospect of running deficits that rival those of Greece where those who faced serious cutbacks recently were rioting in the streets.
Timidity over dealing with this issue -- whether it is by Congress or the White House -- isn't doing us any real favors. Let's do what has to be done and move forward.