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A House Republican Study Committee proposal from June supports cuts to beneficiaries by setting a higher retirement age and changing benefit formulas. Experts said President Joe Biden’s 13% figure is speculative, but plausible.
This is one Republican faction’s plan, not something universally adopted by the GOP, and it’s not certain to be enacted.
Biden’s framing ignores that his own policy — essentially continuing the status quo — threatens bigger across-the-board reductions by the early 2030s.
A group that analyzed the proposal said there is neither enough detail to say what the committee’s full plan is nor a comprehensive assessment of what the average cut would, or wouldn’t, be.
President Joe Biden said Republicans intend to chop Social Security.
"Their plan would cut Social Security benefits," Biden said Nov. 27 during a White House event. "I thought (Republicans) agreed not to do this a couple times. But they’re back at it. Average benefit cut would be 13%."
Almost 67 million Americans this year will receive Social Security payments, totaling about $1 trillion. Many older Americans rely on the benefits to pay their basic living expenses. People can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, but full benefits kick in when they turn 67.
Social Security is funded through the payroll tax; that revenue is put into trust funds to pay for current beneficiaries. These trust funds could be depleted as early as 2032 if further action is not taken. That could mean that in about a decade, monthly checks could be reduced by about 23%.
But because of its widespread support among older Americans — who usually have the highest voter turnout — Social Security has long been known as the "third rail of politics." Many politicians in both parties are reluctant to broach major structural changes.
In his 2023 State of the Union address, Biden seemed to cow Republican lawmakers in the audience into pledging not to cut benefits. That nationally televised faceoff set the table for Biden’s criticism on Nov. 27.
The White House told PolitiFact that Biden was referring to a budget proposed in June by the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives in the House GOP.
That proposal opens the door to Social Security cuts, but its effects are far less clear or specific than Biden portrayed. Republicans said it would not affect people who are near retirement or have retired, which Biden left out. He also omitted important context about what could happen to Social Security under his own plan.
The Republican Study Committee did not answer an inquiry for this article.
In its 167-page fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, the Republican Study Committee backed some changes to Social Security’s structure that it said would preserve the program’s fiscal health.
The group said it would "make modest changes" in the benefit formula for "individuals who are not near retirement" and are on the income scale’s higher end. It also said it would make "modest adjustments" to the retirement age for full benefits "to account for increases in life expectancy." And the budget said it would phase out "auxiliary benefits" for high earners.
The proposal would cut benefits, at least for some people.
In its proposed budget, the Republican Study Committee emphasized that its proposal "does not cut or delay retirement benefits for any senior in or near retirement," and Biden did not repeat this caveat.
However, the flip side of the group’s pledge is that younger Americans would see reductions under the group’s plan.
In an analysis of the proposal for PolitiFact, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — a fiscally hawkish group that tracks budget matters — said it is "generally true that an increase in the full retirement age is roughly equivalent to an across-the-board cut in benefits."
For instance, if people want to retire at 67, but the age for receiving full benefits is raised to 69, they can still choose to retire at 67, but if they do, they will have to accept a lower monthly payment than before the age was raised.
Future beneficiaries’ payments could be cut further depending on their income and other factors.
Biden’s 13% figure is speculative, but plausible.
The White House told PolitiFact that the 13% figure originated in a table the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published.
In the table, raising the retirement age from 67 to 69 would reduce an "illustrative monthly benefit" from $1,000 to $867, which is a 13.3% cut.
The paper was last updated in 2020, but Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said the math it uses is "still applicable."
However, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget urged caution.
"There both isn’t enough detail to say what the full (Republican Study Committee) plan is, and there also isn’t a comprehensive assessment of the full plan to say what the average cut would or wouldn’t be," the group told PolitiFact.
Whether this can be characterized as the Republican plan is more debatable.
The Republican Study Committee’s membership includes about 80% of the House Republican Conference, which holds a narrow majority in the chamber. But this doesn’t mean the Republican Study Committee’s plan is an official plan for all Republicans — nor would it be a slam dunk to pass.
It’s one proposal from one faction, albeit a sizable one, within the House Republican Conference. Given the political sensitivity of Social Security and that one-fifth of House Republicans aren’t bound by the Republican Study Committee’s plan, it could face trouble on the floor, if it gets that far.
Also, Democrats control the Senate narrowly, and it’s not clear that the Republican minority in the chamber would close ranks behind such a plan.
In contrast to the changes the Republican Study Committee envisions, the White House in February said Biden would "commit to taking cuts to Social Security … off the table."
A status quo approach like this, however, would also lead to significant benefit cuts if nothing changes.
This is a point the Republican Study Committee makes repeatedly in its proposal, describing the prospect of what it calls "Biden’s 23% across-the-board cuts" "devastating." That figure stems from projections by the trust funds’ trustees.
"As President Biden criticizes proposals that would prolong the life of the Social Security trust fund, his current approach of doing nothing would lead to 23% benefit cuts for all participants, including current seniors," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "We are running out of time, and serious leaders should offer their own solutions, not try to score cheap political points against those who do."
Biden said of Republicans, "Their plan would cut Social Security benefits. … Average benefit cut would be 13%."
A Republican Study Committee proposal from June would result in cuts to beneficiaries from a combination of a higher retirement age and formula changes, though the proposal said current retirees and those nearing retirement age would be exempted. Experts found the 13% cut Biden cited to be speculative, but plausible — but there isn’t enough detail to really know.
Also, this is one Republican faction’s plan, not something universally adopted by the party, and it’s far from guaranteed to be passed in the House, let alone in the Senate. And Biden’s framing also ignores that his own policy, which is essentially to continue the status quo, threatens even bigger across-the-board reductions by the early 2030s.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Republican Study Committee, fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, June 14, 2023
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Social Security Benefits Are Modest," Jan. 8, 2020
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, "Analysis of the 2023 Social Security Trustees' Report," March 31, 2023
PolitiFact, "When will Social Security sunset? Barring congressional changes, money will deplete by 2034," Feb. 22, 2023
Email interview with Paul Van de Water, senior fellow with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Nov. 28, 2023
Email interview with Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Nov. 28, 2023
White House, statement to PolitiFact, Nov. 28, 2023
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