With an eye on the 2016 presidential race, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has spent the past few months rolling out policy proposals on issues like higher education and poverty. His latest proposal focuses on retirement security, including a plan to open up to more Americans the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) offered to every member of Congress and federal employee.
Rubio says his proposals are designed to protect the elderly, using his mother, Oria Garcia, as an example of the kind of people who rely on Social Security and Medicare.
"What would life have been like for me, and for my mother, if she had arrived in America as a young woman in 2006 rather than 1956? Could my parents still have found good-paying work and made it to the middle class? And would Social Security and Medicare still be solvent by the time they were ready to retire?" Rubio asked during a speech at the National Press Club. "I believe the American dream my parents lived is still possible. But among too many of our people, there is now a nagging sense that achieving it has become more difficult than ever. Financial security has faded for millions of Americans - and with it the hope of a stable and secure retirement."
Rubio called TSP, which is similar to a traditional employer-sponsored 401K, "one of the most efficient savings plans in America." It allows federal employees to save pre-tax money for their retirement with fees lower than most private defined-contribution plans. He proposed that all Americans who do not have access to employer-sponsored plan be given the option of enrolling, which would boost Americans' savings and help to supplement Social Security income.
Two proposals were related to removing what Rubio says are disincentives to work: eliminating the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax for individuals who have reached retirement age, as well as the Retirement Earnings Test that reduces benefits for people between ages 62 and 65 who earn more than $15,000 a year.
Rubio said the first proposal would allow seniors to keep, and therefore save, more of their money, which would lead them to work for longer and in turn boost federal income tax revenue. He also said the Retirement Earnings Test encourages people to retire at 62 rather than incurring a penalty on their Social Security income, but it doesn't save any money because their benefits are increased later.
Warning about a declining Social Security Trust Fund, Rubio proposed to reduce the growth of benefits for upper-income seniors while strengthening the program for those who earn less.
"This isn't a cut, it's simply a reduction in how fast the benefit will increase for wealthier retirees," he said. "Doing this will add years to Social Security's solvency. It is one of the best ways to save the program for high-income and low-income beneficiaries alike."
Praising the success of the Medicare Part D prescription drug program - which he called "a booming success by every conceivable measure," Rubio encouraged the government to learn from the benefits of spurring competition in the marketplace when it comes to health care. Echoing proposals from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Rubio said the U.S. should transition to a premium support Medicare system which would give seniors a lump sum with which to purchase traditional Medicare or a plan from a private provider.
"I have no doubt that my suggestions today will be used against me, to try and convince seniors that I would change the benefits they worked so hard for and paid into all those years. It wouldn't be the first time I've had such attacks hurled in my direction. So let me address that here and now," Rubio said as he unveiled his proposals. "First, my mother depends on Medicare and Social Security. I will never support anything that would hurt my mother or retirees like her. And second, anyone who is in favor of doing nothing about Social Security and Medicare is in favor of bankrupting Social Security and Medicare."
Later, he said it was the responsibility of all elected lawmakers to save the programs, but too many "seem to have forgotten that we are here to pass policy, not posture politically."
During a question-and-answer session, Rubio was asked about his comments on ABC over the weekend in which he said he did not believe human activity was responsible for drastic changes in the climate.
"The issue is not whether the climate is changing...the issue is whether there are legislative proposals before us that could do anything about it," Rubio said. He indicated his preference would be to spend time and energy on trying to mitigate the effects of climate change rather than stop it entirely because countries like China will not pursue similar policies.
"If we ban all coal in the U.S., if we ban all carbon emissions in the United States, will it change the dramatic changes in climate?" Rubio asked. "Anyone who says that it will is not being truthful. The truth is the united states is a country, not a planet."