On Capitol Hill, a maverick is stirring tea.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the upper chamber’s leading dealmakers, is cosponsoring Social Security reform legislation with freshmen senators Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah), two vocal members of the Tea Party Caucus.
At a press conference this morning, the trio detailed their plan, the “Social Security Solvency and Sustainability Act.” The package would gradually raise the retirement age to 70 by 2032 and cut benefits for the wealthy beginning in 2018.
Graham joked that he has been attempting to fix Social Security since 2003, and held up a cover story from Congressional Quarterly from 2005, which praised him for taking on the third rail of American politics. That was six years ago, he said, and he doesn’t want to be talking about the same thing six years from now.
Graham then posed a question to himself. “Why the three of us?” he asked, swiveling his head on the dais. “These are the only guys that I could find. And I’m the only guy that they could find. It’s not like we auditioned a bunch of people and we just settled on the three of us. There is a real reluctance by Republicans and Democrats to talk about what I think is the easiest of the entitlements to save.”
As President Obama prepares to address Medicare and Medicaid in speech later today, the three Republicans argued that Social Security must be promptly addressed. “If the president today would put entitlement reform on the table, we intend to work with him, and anyone else,” Graham said. “I can tell you that Social Security is a meaningful program that is going to fail unless we do something.” But if Obama proposes tax increases to deal with entitlements, the South Carolinian warned that it will “not get the votes.”
Paul, who in the past has mentioned private accounts as a possible solution, chuckled when a reporter asked whether he has compromised with this plan. “Truly, at heart, I am a moderate,” he said, to laughs. “No, I am like Senator Graham. I still believe in the idea . . . This has to be done to fix the system. Senator Graham is exactly right. Right now, there are not enough votes for privatization. And there are definitely not the votes for raising taxes.”