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Rubio’s Social Security Reform Makes a Lot of Sense

Over the last few months, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been releasing a series of domestic policy proposals, the most recent of which is the best yet. Drawing on the work of Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute, a leading expert on Social Security, among other things, Rubio has outlined a strategy for shoring up and improving Social Security for future generations. Rubio represents Florida, where 18.2 percent of the population is over the age of 65, which about a third higher than the U.S. average (13.7 percent). And when Rubio ran for the GOP Senate nomination in 2010, he took a real risk by explicitly calling for a Social Security reform that might, for example, raise the retirement age for younger workers. Rather than leave it at that, Rubio has now offered a proposal that ought to serve as a model for conservative policy innovation. First, Rubio made it extremely clear that he doesn’t just begrudgingly accept Social Security as a concession to political reality that he would eliminate if he could. He makes an affirmative case for Social Security, which he characterizes as a central element of the American dream. This is vitally important for conservatives, as it undermines the deep-seated notion that the right has a hidden agenda to dismantle the safety net. Second, Rubio calls for reform not just on the grounds that the Social Security system is fiscally unsustainable, though he does make that case, but also on the grounds that its current structure “does not line up with the needs and realities of our post-industrial economy.” That is, Rubio doesn’t just make the case for extending Social Security’s lifespan. He also makes the case for modernizing the program to better meet the needs of retirees. Third, he offers a proposal — opening access to the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan to all citizens — that recognizes that many employers, including a large share of low-wage employers, don’t offer employer-sponsored 401K plans, and that the federal government can play a constructive role.

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