Take a good look at the riots in cities across France right now. Look at the piles of garbage that have resulted from workers striking to protest changes to government pensions. They could be a preview of what’s coming to the United States in less than a decade.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Politicians on both sides of the aisle could get serious about Social Security reforms and head off a depletion of the program’s trust fund. Unfortunately, so far many of them, and the president, seem to have decided instead to retreat inside political bunkers and lob verbal grenades.

That’s a shame, because studies have shown there is common ground between voters on both sides of the political spectrum. 

Last year, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation did a study that found several changes to Social Security that both Republican and Democratic voters said they could support — changes that could save the program financially. 

The top one of these, supported by 79% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats, would be to raise the cap on the payroll tax that supports Social Security. Currently, any income over $147,000 a year isn’t subject to the tax. 

The survey found support for raising it to $400,000, people said, making this an easy fix that ought to sail through any Congress. That would eliminate 61% of the shortfall.

Even raising the payroll tax itself, from 6.2% to 6.5%, garnered support from 70% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats. Similar majorities agreed it would be OK to phase out benefits for the top 20% of high-earning retirees — people who would hardly feel the difference. That would erase another 11% of the shortfall.

Smaller majorities favored raising benefits in different ways, proving there is little appetite for cuts to the program.

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But these changes would be a lot easier to impose today than in 2032, the year the Congressional Budget Office now says the Social Security trust fund will be drained.

“If Congress chooses to do nothing, current law requires painful 24% cuts to benefits and a daunting future for fulfilling our promises,” Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Angus King, I-Maine, said in a joint statement earlier this month. “If we come together now, we can preserve and protect the retirement security of all Americans now and long into the future.”

Cassidy and King (who, despite being an independent, caucuses with the Democratic Party), are working to find a bipartisan solution “like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did in 1983.” Others are trying to do the same. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is sponsoring the Trust Act, which would set up a separate “rescue committee” for each of the nation’s struggling trust funds, including Social Security, then task them with drafting workable solutions. Each committee would consist of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, chosen by their respective party leaders.

This plan has the added advantage of considering the broader problems of government overspending together, not zeroing in on one, only.

But Democrats have assailed Romney as wanting to make drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or to destroy them altogether. President Joe Biden has been pushing this narrative against all Republicans lately, despite saying he is willing to meet with them to negotiate solutions.

That kind of talk will get us nowhere, except on a fast-track to 2032, political failure and the possibility of riots in the streets.

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We all know Social Security really isn’t a retirement plan. It typically covers about 40% of pre-retirement income. And yet, according to a 2020 study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, 40% of retired Americans rely on it for all of their income. Only 7% of retirees have what the institute calls the ideal situation, which is a defined pension from their former employer, a defined contribution account, like a 401(k), and, finally, as an add-on, Social Security.

As more baby boomers retire, the nation can’t afford to ignore the disconnect between the program’s intent and how it is actually being used.

In France, people are not yet lobbing real grenades, but they are setting fire to things after the prime minister used a special constitutional power to push through a measure that raises the pension age from 62 to 64.  

That brings me back to the University of Maryland study. It found that solid majorities of Americans (three-quarters from each party) said they would support raising the retirement age to 68.

If you’re paying attention, that’s four years beyond what the French are rioting against.

If we could get that kind of bipartisan buy-in today, why would we wait nine years until a crisis makes it look like these things are being forced on people? Why would we let political grenades stop us from a bipartisan victory today that makes everyone look forward-thinking?