Democrat James Clyburn, who was just appointed by Nancy Pelosi to the SuperCommission, thinks we should means-test Social Security.
Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot explain in their book Social Security: The Phony Crisis, why means testing puts a disproportionate tax burden on the elderly:
Some policy analysts and advocates have argued for “means testing” on the grounds that the government should not pay money to wealthy senior citizens while it cuts programs for poor chidren.
There are compelling reasons, however, to reject this approach. Most important is the danger that it poses to the program’s broad base of political support. One reason it has been so difficult to cut, privatize, or dismantle Social Security is that 43 million beneficiaries receive it. The more that base is reduced, especially by cutting off those seniors who have relatively more of a voice in politics, the shakier Social Security’s position becomes.
It is not just the absolute numbers that are significant but the nature of the program as well. Social Security is a social insurance program in which retirement benefits are proportional to one’s payments into the system. Means-testing would convert the system into a welfare program. And we know from the recent cancellation of the most important federal welfare entitlement, AFDC, how much more difficult it is to defend welfare against political attacks than it is to defend social insurance.
The justification for denying benefits to people who have paid taxes into the system is also questionable. We do not deny interest payments to the wealthy owners of U.S. Treasury bonds, for example, and it is difficult to se how the payment of Social Security benefits to rich senior citizens is any less appropriate. Indeed, why single out senior citizens as a group for special treatment in this regard? If we think that the rich are getting too much of the economic pie, then they should all be getting taxed more — not just the ones who happen to be over 65.