In the vice presidential debate Thursday night, Paul Ryan confirmed that he still supports Social Security privatization but demurred that the idea of giving younger Americans the option to move their Social Security benefits into private retirement accounts is not part of the Romney-Ryan platform.
The Wisconsin congressman and House Budget Committee chairman talked up the concept when asked about his and Romney’s backing of President George W. Bush’s failed Social Security privatization plan.
“For younger people,” Ryan said. “What we said then and what I’ve always agreed is, let younger Americans have a voluntary choice of making their money work faster for them within the Social Security system. That’s not what Mitt Romney’s proposing. We say no changes for anybody 55 and above.
“And then the changes we talk about for younger people like myself is don’t increase benefit for the wealthy people as fast as anybody else, slowly raise the retirement age over time,” he said. “It wouldn’t get to the age of 70 until the year 2103, according to the actuaries.”
Ryan championed plans in 2004 and 2010 that would shift Social Security funds into the private market. Participants would be permitted to invest one-third of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds. Although the plans contained mechanisms to protect payouts to beneficiaries against market fluctuations, nonpartisan studies found that it could destabilize the program’s solvency in the long-term. Bush tried and failed to enact a altered version of the plan at the beginning of his second term.
While Romney previously supported privatization, his official Social Security platform calls for incrementally raising the eligibility age and lowering benefits for high-income recipients. It does not mention the privatization proposal, but Ryan’s remarks are a reminder of that both members of the ticket previously embraced the idea.
Two Romney-Ryan campaign spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment as to whether Romney supports privatization.
“Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts,” Ryan said, talking up the need for major reforms. “And Social Security? If we don’t shore up Social Security, when we run out of the IOUs, when the program goes bankrupt, a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut kicks in on current seniors in the middle of their retirement. We’re going to stop that from happening.”
Vice President Joe Biden insisted that President Obama wants no part of privatization.
“With regard to Social Security, we will not privatize it,” he said. “If we listened to Romney in the Bush years imagine where the seniors would be now if their money had been in the market. Their ideas are old. Their ideas are bad.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article interpreted Ryan’s comments as suggesting Romney’s support for privatization. It has been updated to clarify that the official Romney-Ryan platform does not call for privatization.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.