WI-02 Residents Agree on Reforms to Social Security, Eliminating Most of Shortfall and Increasing Some Benefits

Rep. Pocan Attends “Citizen Panel Forum” to Discuss New Findings – In a unique survey of 406 residents of Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed on steps that would resolve most of Social Security’s projected shortfall, while increasing benefits for many retirees.

The survey results were released at an online “Citizen Panel Forum” on Saturday. Congressman Mark Pocan attended and discussed the findings with dozens of the residents of the 2nd District who took the online survey.

The survey, conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, explained how the revenues from Social Security will eventually fail to cover the cost of the benefits, creating a shortfall.  Unless changes are made benefits will need to be cut.

To address the shortfall, large majorities favored reducing benefits to high earners and gradually raising the retirement age to 68. The biggest changes, though, came from making all wages over $400,000 subject to the payroll tax and making a slight increase to the payroll tax.

Respondents were also given the option of raising benefits.  Majorities favored raising the minimum benefit and changing the way cost of living adjustments are calculated in a way that would be more favorable for seniors.  These changes would increase the shortfall.

If all of the proposals with majority support were enacted, this would eliminate 94 percent of Social Security’s projected shortfall. If just the proposals agreed on by majorities of both Republicans and Democrats were enacted, 87 percent of the shortfall would be eliminated.

At an online event these findings were presented to Congressman Pocan and there was a discussion with constituents.

The survey and the Citizen Panel Forum are part of a larger Citizen Panel Initiative, sponsored by Voice of the People and Civic Genius, that seeks to give citizens tools to more effectively understand and weigh-in on decisions before Congress, to give members of Congress a better understanding of their constituents, and to discern the potential for bipartisan convergence.

“Many characterize Social Security as a ‘third rail’ in American politics, but given the right tools, majorities from both parties agree on how to fix most of the shortfall,” said Steven Kull, VOP president and director of the Program for Public Consultation.

“At a time when Americans are incredibly polarized, Citizen Panel forums provide opportunities for Americans to focus on where we agree and how our policies can reflect that agreement,” said Jillian Youngblood, executive director of Civic Genius. “Working together across divisions doesn’t require anyone to leave their values at the door; it just requires a willingness to listen and engage.”

Four hundred six Wisconsin residents from the 2nd District participated in the online survey, initiated by the nonpartisan organizations Voice of the People and Civic Genius. Respondents went through a process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that gives users information and seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker. Respondents are provided a briefing, presented with pro and con arguments, and then asked to weigh-in with their specific recommendations. The content was reviewed in advance by experts on all sides to assure accuracy and balance.

The most popular proposal was to reduce benefits for the top 25 percent of earners, which was supported by 94% of WI-02 residents, including 90% of Republicans and nearly all Democrats (98%).

A large and bipartisan majority of 84% (Republicans 78%, Democrats 87%) favored subjecting wages over $400,000 to the payroll tax (currently only wages under $148,000 are subject). This proposal would eliminate 60 percent of the shortfall, and has been put forward by President Biden and several Members of Congress.

Raising the payroll tax gradually from 6.2 percent to 6.5 percent was favored by 82% overall, with little partisan difference (Republicans 83%, Democrats 89%).

Raising the retirement age to 68 by 2033 was recommended by 88%, including 85% of Republicans and over nine in ten Democrats (92%).

These four steps would eliminate exactly 100 percent of the shortfall. In addition, 55% went further and raised the payroll tax to 6.9 percent over 14 years,which would cover another 15 percent of the shortfall. This was favored by a majority of Democrats (63%), but less than half of Republicans (44%),

Two out of the three proposals to increase benefits were also favored by a majority overall, which would increase the shortfall.

Sixty four percent recommended increasing benefits by changing the measure of inflation used to adjust benefits annually (known as cost-of-living-adjustments, or COLAs), from one based on an average set of consumer goods, to one based on goods elderly people tend to buy. This was supported by 54% of Republicans and seven in ten Democrats.

Increasing the minimum benefit from $898 to about $1,330 was recommended by 56%, including seven in ten Democrats. While less than half of Republicans supported this measure (45%), a majority of 55% found the idea acceptable.

The only proposal not to get majority support was for increasing benefits for those 85 and older by about $77 a month, or five percent. Just 45% supported this measure, including just one third of Democrats (35%), but a modest majority of Republicans (54%).

The views expressed in Wisconsin’s 2nd District were similar to those in a nationwide survey with a sample of more than 2,000 voters provided by Nielsen Scarborough.

Social Security Questionnaire with WI-02 and U.S. National Frequencies:
http://publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/SocialSecurityQuaire_WI2_0321.pdf

Social Security Survey Slides with WI-02 and U.S. National Results:
http://publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/SocialSecuritySlides_WI2_0321.pdf

Members of the public can go through the same policymaking simulation at:https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/6266065/Addressing-the-Social-Security-Shortfall

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