Chaffetz unveils Social Security reform, knowing it's a tough row to hoe

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 4:34 p.m. MST

Chaffetz proposes a series of steps to make the Social Security program solvent without raising taxes.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Congressman Jason Chaffetz unveiled a complicated proposal for Social Security reform Tuesday, but he doesn't expect it to go anywhere soon.

"I'm not kidding myself into thinking that this is suddenly going to pass this year or next. It probably won't. But I need to be able to look voters in the eye and say, 'I'm trying. I'm really trying,'" the Utah Republican said. "Send me some more people with political guts and we can get it done."

Social Security — the largest federal expenditure accounting for 20 percent of the $3.6 trillion budget — in its current form is unsustainable and ran a deficit for the first time last year, he said.

Chaffetz proposes a series of steps to make the program solvent without raising taxes. Benefits would continue to grow under his plan but at a slower rate. He said the vast majority of retirees, particularly those with middle and lower incomes, would receive larger checks than they are getting now.

Although he has drafted a bill, Chaffetz said he will not formally introduce it without a "brave" Democratic House sponsor, who he concedes will be hard to find.

"We just need people who have guts to do it; most are chicken," he said, adding that goes for Democrats and Republicans.

Chaffetz's plan, which combines new and old ideas, has seven provisions:

• Raise the normal retirement age to 69 for those born in 1972. For those born after 1972, the retirement age is increased one month for every two years. Early retirement would remain at 62.

• Recalculate the cost-of-living-allowance.

• Change how benefits are calculated for workers with lifetime earnings above the 50th percentile.

• Increase the number of years of income from 35 to 40 that would be averaged in determining monthly benefits.

• Allow for five years of child care credit.

• Increase benefits 5 percent starting at age 85.

• Implement an annual test that reduces benefits by up to 50 percent for couples earning more than $360,000 in the most recent tax year.

Chaffetz said it's clear that any proposal to privatize Social Security, an idea he favors, isn't going anywhere. He said he hopes to jump-start a reform discussion by getting his plan on paper.

"I want to make sure we are tackling the toughest of issues," he said. "Politically, it's probably most prudent to do nothing on this subject."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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