Efforts to repeal a few decades-old provisions that have limited Social Security benefits to public retirees are gaining renewed momentum this year, though it is likely to be an uphill battle to get reforms across the finish line.
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At issue are the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which were passed in 1983 and 1977, respectively. Critics say the measures unfairly cut Social Security for public employees with pensions, the Roll Call legislative news website reported.
Because of the WEP and GPO, many state and local government jobs are not covered by Social Security, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. That’s because these workers don’t pay Social Security taxes on their earnings or get credit for that work when the Social Security Administration calculates their benefits. Instead, they get pensions designed to replace Social Security.
Both provisions aim to reduce unfairly high payments from social security. But many lawmakers, public employee and retiree groups now argue that the measures went too far and ended up penalizing teachers, police officers, firefighters, government employees and others who have served in the public sector by structuring Social Security benefits from their non-government agencies ( non-covered) jobs in an unfair manner.
Among the problems with the WEP and GPO is that when Congress enacted them, comprehensive data on earnings from non-covered employment did not exist, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. This necessitated a “fuzzy approach” to adjusting Social Security benefits. An additional disadvantage is that affected workers may find it “almost impossible to accurately predict their Social Security benefits and therefore adequately prepare for retirement.”
To address these issues, a bipartisan coalition led by US Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced a bill that would eliminate both provisions and provide higher Social Security benefits to millions of retirees. Graves is the lead sponsor of the bill, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) is the Democratic sponsor.
The bill had more than 300 co-sponsors last year — enough to force a vote in the House. But the Ways and Means Committee blocked it from going to the floor. This year, the bill has already been backed by 180 House co-sponsors. Graves’ plan is to keep adding names, secure a vote in the House and then push the Senate to act during the current session.
“This needs to be fixed,” Graves told Roll Call. “It’s unfair. You’ve been looting these people now for over four decades.”
Previous efforts to dismantle the provisions have met with political pushback. However, there could be an opportunity for more support this year amid increased talk about how to support Social Security as one of its trust funds faces depletion within the next decade.
Graves, an ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has already met with New Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) to discuss the issue.
Smith has said he is open to discussion, but he also noted that the Graves bill does not include a formula that would avoid accelerating Social Security’s funding shortfall. Another concern is the cost of repealing the provisions. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that full repeal would cost $88 billion over a decade for the WEP and $107 billion for the GPO.
For his part, Graves said he is willing to compromise to reach some kind of agreement.
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“I’m not saying it’s our way or the highway,” he said. “Am I willing to take progress over perfection? Yes, I would. But I’m also not stupid enough to negotiate with myself.”
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Social Security: Effort To Eliminate Pensions Benefit Cuts Gains Momentum — Who Would Be Affected?