Hoyer may touch third rail
Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland is already a point person in the House on overhauling the nation's health care system, the biggest domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration.
Soon, he could be grabbing another tough problem: fixing the Social Security system. Changes are needed in order to meet future obligations and keep the federal retirement and disability benefit program from going broke.
Efforts to craft a solution could begin later this year. If they do, Hoyer is expected to be a central player.
In a noontime speech on Wednesday at a Bipartisan Policy Center forum, the congressman from Mechanicsville outlined what some believe could be the formula for putting Social Security on firmer fiscal ground.
The ingredients: increasing Social Security taxes, raising the retirement age and trimming benefits for wealthier retirees.
Hoyer put it this way, according to an excerpt from his prepared text: "Of our entitlement programs, I believe we would have the easiest challenge in reforming Social Security. Here, the options are well and widely understood. We can bring in more revenues. We can restrain the growth of benefits, particularly for higher-income workers, while we strengthen the safety net for lower-income workers. And/or we can raise the retirement age, recognizing that our life expectancy is significantly higher today."
Hoyer added: "What is missing here is not ideas--it is political will."
Nothing new about that last comment. It explains why nothing has been done to deal with the problem in decades and why the cliche about Social Security as the third rail of American politics has frightened a generation of elected officials away from making the inevitable changes.
Hoyer said that recent expressions of interest by Republicans in working on the problem--South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is one--"gives us a real opening for progress."
Bipartisan action "will prevent either party from exploiting those solutions for political advantage," according to Hoyer.