Liberal Group’s Meme Mentions Nonexistent GOP Vote to Raise Social Security’s Retirement Age
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A Republican Study Committee task force released a budget last year proposing to raise the full retirement age to 70 for some future Social Security beneficiaries. There was no vote on the plan, but a liberal group’s viral meme incorrectly claimed “156 congressional Republicans … just voted to RAISE the retirement age to 70.”
Over 150 Republicans have not voted during the current Congress to raise the retirement age for Social Security. That false claim was made in a popular meme posted to Facebook and Instagram on Feb. 27 by the liberal advocacy group Occupy Democrats.
The meme, which has received thousands of likes and shares on those platforms, says: “The 156 congressional Republicans that just voted to RAISE the retirement age to 70 can get their pension when they reach 62, with just 5 years of service.” Occupy Democrats attributed that information to Twitter user @trom771, who tweeted that statement on Feb. 26.
The claim about Republican votes is not accurate, and the one about pensions for lawmakers — which we’ll explain later — could confuse readers.
Raising the Retirement Age
The tweet from @trom771 came about two weeks after Social Security Works, a group “fighting to protect and expand” Social Security, tweeted: “It’s not just Rick Scott. 156 House Republicans released a plan to raise the retirement age to 70. RT if you don’t want to work till you die!”
The Twitter thread included a graphic with the names of the House Republicans the group said “signed on to a plan to slash Social Security.”
“All of them are members of the Republican Study Committee,” Social Security Works said.
The Republican Study Committee is a “conservative caucus of House Republicans” that has been around since the early 1970s. In June 2022, several members of the RSC, those on the committee’s budget and spending task force, put forward an “alternative budget for fiscal year 2023” that suggested raising Social Security’s retirement age, among other things.
On page 81 of the budget, in a section titled “Make Social Security Solvent Again,” the plan calls for Congress to follow the Social Security Reform Act proposed by the late GOP Rep. Sam Johnson. That legislation, the budget says, would “continue the gradual increase of the normal retirement age that current law has set in motion at a rate of three months per year until it is increased by three years for those reaching age 62 in 2040, 18 years from now.”
In other words, it would raise the age of full retirement for future Social Security benefits to 70 — up from the current age of 67 for people born in 1960 or later. (The youngest age at which someone can start collecting Social Security benefits is 62 — at a reduced amount.)
After raising the full retirement age to 70, the budget calls for linking the “normal retirement ages to the life expectancy of retirees to keep the program from falling out of balance in the future and providing additional security in case life expectancy decreases in the future.”
No one already on Social Security or age 55 and older would be affected by the plan, the budget says.
But Congress has not voted on the proposal, as the Occupy Democrats meme wrongly claimed.
“There has been no vote on the RSC budget in at least four years,” the study committee’s communications director, Miranda Dabney, told us in an email.
There are actually more than 170 members of the RSC in the 118th Congress, according to the group’s website. However, it’s not clear that each of them, or even the overwhelming majority, supports an increase in the full retirement age.
“There haven’t been any votes of any kind on the RSC budget,” Dabney said when we asked if all committee members are on record as backing it. “The Budget & Spending Task Force is made up of 10 or so Members who put together the budget,” she said, adding that task force members “are not required to sign off on every part of the budget.”
Linda Benesch, the communications director for Social Security Works, told us the group used the 156 figure because that is how many members the RSC listed at the time Social Security Works posted its tweet. “They are all signed onto the budget by being members of the RSC,” she argued.
However, the published budget included the signatures of just 16 people.
Nonetheless, the RSC budget says its suggested reforms “would ensure the survival” of Social Security, considering the program’s finances are in trouble.
Without any legislative changes by Congress, the Social Security trust fund that pays retirement and survivor benefits is projected to be depleted by 2034, according to the 2022 Social Security Trustees report. At that time, the money coming from payroll taxes alone would be enough to cover only 77% of scheduled benefits — meaning smaller monthly checks for recipients.
But as the Congressional Budget Office explained in a December 2022 analysis, increasing the full retirement age to 70 for workers born in 1978 or later also would mean future benefit cuts, regardless of when the trust fund is depleted.
Raising the full retirement age “would reduce scheduled lifetime benefits for every affected Social Security recipient, regardless of the age at which a person claimed benefits,” the CBO says. Workers at least 62 years old could retire and still collect benefits before 70, but they would get a reduced monthly payout. On the other hand, workers who wait until 70 to collect in full would receive those benefits for a shorter period of time than current beneficiaries.
A CBO spokesperson told us that the agency’s analysis assumed “scheduled payments will continue to be made in full after the trust funds have been exhausted.” So CBO did not compare benefit cuts resulting from a depleted trust fund with benefit cuts resulting from an increase in the retirement age.
Pensions for Congress
In addition, the Occupy Democrats meme says Republicans that want to raise the retirement age “can get their pension when they reach 62, with just 5 years of service.”
“They got THEIRS, and don’t give a damn about YOU,” the graphic says.
Social media users may not know it, but the meme is likely referring to retirement pension programs for federal workers, which we have written about before — not Social Security. There are no different rules when it comes to members of Congress and Social Security.
As the Congressional Research Service explained in a report updated in 2019:
Congressional Research Service, Aug. 8, 2019: Under both CSRS and FERS, Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least 5 years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on length of service (as measured in months) and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
CSRS is the Civil Service Retirement System, the longtime pension plan for federal workers prior to the creation of FERS, the Federal Employees Retirement System, which went into effect in 1987. Most lawmakers currently serving are covered by FERS — unless they were elected before 1984 and chose to remain in CSRS, or they took office after that time and were allowed to opt out of FERS. (House members who started serving on or after Sept. 30, 2003, are required to enroll in FERS.)
Both CSRS and FERS are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions.
As for Social Security, representatives and senators have been required to participate and pay into the program since 1984. And as the Congressional Research Service says, “The laws governing payment of Social Security taxes and eligibility for Social Security benefits apply to Members of Congress in the same way they apply to any other Social Security covered worker.”
That means lawmakers need at least 40 credits of covered employment to qualify for benefits, which typically means 10 years of work, and their initial benefits will be reduced if they retire early and choose to start drawing Social Security between 62 and full retirement age.
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