Sixteen years ago, then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke strongly in support of Social Security. He called it “the most widely accepted government contract in America” and said “[i]t is also the single most popular government program.” When it comes to budgetary issues, Social Security should be off the table, he concluded.
Now, as a leading Republican presidential contender, Gingrich does not appear to be backing away from those comments, but he is putting forth proposals aimed at reforming the program. Last month, Gingrich offered a partial privatization Social Security plan that would create an optional program that people would direct much like an individual retirement account. Gingrich also supports a private alternative to Medicare. Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid often go hand-in-hand, as Medicare premiums come directly out of Social Security benefits and some Social Security programs like SSI benefits make a recipient eligible for Medicaid protection under certain conditions.
Some – many senior citizens’ groups, for example – fear that Gingrich’s privatization reforms would be disastrous. They worry that a system already facing severe financial problems would get even worse if benefits became tied to the fluctuations of the markets. Gingrich has offered a safety net in that the federal government would make up any difference between a person’s actual returns and those that they would have received under the traditional Social Security model, but critics believe that this may worsen Social Security’s financial situation, since funding the shortfall would require money from somewhere else.
Providing benefits to retired and disabled Americans, Social Security touches just about everyone’s life. How have you evaluated the proposals for reforming Social Security that have been circulating in recent months? What factors are important for you?