Senator Sherrod Brown has an idea. If we are going to talk about raising people’s eligibility age for retirement benefits, then members of Congress should not have access to their own retirement benefits any earlier than the rest of us.
Brown is introducing a proposal today in Congress that would enshrine this into law: It would amend the Federal retirement system to make the Social Security retirement age the point at which current and future members of Congress get access to their own Federal retirement benefits.
You might dismiss this proposal as merely designed to send a message, and indeed the proposal that may not even come up for a vote. But Brown is hoping that the very fact that it’s a long shot will force some members of Congress — and the President — to rethink the notion that it’s acceptable to raise the retirement age on hard working Americans.
“The people who cavalierly say we can raise the retirement age probably don’t know people who work in a diner or in construction or in manufacturing or in retail and had their knees go out in their 40s or 50s,” Brown told me in an interview. “People who are doing physical work always have back problems and joint problems.”
“This is way more than a message amendment,” Brown continued. “It could force members of Congress to reassess their views here.”Members of Congress can currently collect their Federal pension benefits as early as 50, depending on how long they’ve served.
The measure Brown is introducing is an amendment to the bill that’s pending on the floor this week that would declare it is the “sense of the senate” that the wealthy should contribute meaningfully to deficit reduction. It comes after reports that President Obama floated a proposal to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, and amid general Beltway talk of raising the Social Security retirement age.
Asked to respond to Obama’s reported willingness to raise the Medicare eligibility age, Brown cautioned that we don’t know details but said he would oppose it if the reports were true.
“He’s wrong,” Brown said of the President’s reported flirtation wih the idea. “Elected officials don’t know enough people who work outside in winter and work in construction and in retail and diners. Members of Congress work into their 70s — it’s not hard for us.”
Brown also said it would be morally and politically disastrous if Dems did anything to erode Medicare benefits. “The best show of the public’s support for Medicare is that people at Tea Party rallies who hate government keep saying, `keep the government out of my Medicare,’” Brown said. “That tells you how great Medicare has been for this country. Any kind of undermining of it flies in the face of deeply held American values.”
So dismiss Brown’s proposal as a “message amendment” if you must. But it carries an awfully important message, and let’s hope more than a few members of Congress hear it.
UPDATE: Dem Rep. Jerrold Nadler tells Sam Stein there will be no Democratic votes whatosever for any proposal raising the Medicare eligibility age.
UPDATE II: And here’s the full text of Brown’s proposal.