Saving Social Security

Special Guests: Reid Ribble

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This week on Facing the Future our guest was former Congressman Reid Ribble, a Republican who represented the 8th district of Wisconsin from 2011-2017. In 2016, Ribble released the Save Our Social Security Act (S.O.S.) with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. We talked to him about why Social Security reform is so important and why it will take bipartisan cooperation. Concord Coalition Policy Director Tori Gorman and Chief Economist Steve Robinson joined the conversation.

Ribble’s S.O.S. Act used a mix of revenue increases and spending reductions to achieve 75-year solvency for Social Security’s combined trust funds (OASDI).

It is very rare for members of Congress to draft a fully scored Social Security reform plan. Ribble explained why he took on the task: “I just got weary of going back to my Congressional district, and when people would ask me about the debt, I would say things like, ‘well, what Congress should do’ and ‘what we need to do is this thing and the other thing.’ And then it dawned on me that I’m not going to do that anymore. I don’t want to be that guy that never offers a solution and instead just talks about the problems because it’s good politically. And so if, in fact, Congress should offer a solution to Social Security and Medicare and other issues surrounding the debt and deficit, then I ought to at least say what my positions are, and let the chips fall where they may.”

He added that “Social security is the nation’s biggest program, and might be the most important. It’s also the easiest one to fix from a mathematical and economic standpoint.”

Trying to drum up support from colleagues was a frustrating experience. Ribble said, “I was going to members’ offices and sitting down with them face to face, because I had a whole list of members that I had on video or audio tape saying that the deficit was a problem, and that at some point we have to fix Social Security. And so I went to those guys first and said, you yourself are campaigning on this. Just think of how powerful this could be if you go back home and say, ‘I’ve now got a bipartisan plan to secure not just your future but every single American’s retirement between now and the next 75 years.’ They ducked under the mattress for the most part.”

He got a more positive response from constituents.  “I did a series of town halls on this,” Ribble said, “and the town halls always started out kind of raucous where people were in opposition. But then, as I walked through the plan and explained what was actually happening, and that we’ve got a real problem here, all of a sudden, parents and grandparents started shaking their heads yes. Once I was able to dispel myths, I could actually have a conversation with both Republicans and Democrats, older workers and younger workers and retired folks, and people began to say finally, somebody’s talking to us about this rather than talking at us.”

Ribble said two of the myths he tried to dispel are that the government has “stolen” money from the trust funds and that “if we would just tax the rich more we could fix this whole problem.”

“They’ve invested the money into bonds that are paying interest back into the program. What are they supposed to do with it, stick it under a mattress or into a closet someplace where it doesn’t earn any type of interest? The Government has not stolen this money. They are paying interest on the money, and they utilize it as it comes in. And by the way, Congress wants to tax the rich to fix every single problem. At some point this golden egg is going to be fried, and there’s no money left to tap into. So the idea that we’re just going to tax the rich more does not solve this problem,” he said.

He had two bits of advice for the new Congress that takes office in 2025.

“The first thing is, you cannot say you love America unless you love its people and you cannot love its people unless you love its children. Therefore, anything you do today will have an impact on generations to follow. So keep that in mind every single time you do something. Second thing is if something is not politically feasible,t’s just not feasible. And so you have to figure out how you can create something in such a divided country and divided Congress that is politically feasible. In other words, what can both sides bring to the table that they want or need in any legislation or reform to get this done and in Social Security it’s pretty straightforward. Republicans are going to want some change in either the COLA or the age, and Democrats are going to want some reforms on revenue and on poverty. Get them on a whiteboard, and then you begin to talk about well, how can Republicans fix this revenue thing in a way that is acceptable to them? And how can Democrats help fix these benefit reforms in a way that’s acceptable to them? And you begin to negotiate.” 

Ending on a positive note, Ribble said, “If you actually solve a problem for the American people, you’ll be rewarded for it, not penalized.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join us as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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