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Republicans debate Social Security changes

Republican presidential candidates Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul

Social Security had a brief mention at the first Republican presidential candidate debate for the 2016 election on Thursday night, with two of the 10 highest-polling Republican candidates discussing it.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who plugged a 12-point entitlement reform plan, proposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 from the current 67, by increasing it one month each year over the next 25 years, starting in 2022. He also called for eliminating benefits for people with retirement income above $200,000 and more than $4 million in savings. Not dealing with Social Security, he said, “will bankrupt our country or lead to massive tax increases.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended the program, saying that of the 60 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits, one-third rely on it to provide 90% of their income. Mr. Huckabee challenged members of Congress to give up their own retirement benefits first.

“Christie may not have a perfect plan, but at least he understands the scale and urgency of the problem,” said Andrew G. Biggs, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. “I expect the issue will come up some more during the GOP debates, but then start hitting really hard once the general election arrives. Democrats and Republicans have split even wider on Social Security in recent years,” Mr. Biggs said.

Shia Akabas, associate director of the Economic Policy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that with large numbers of baby boomers retiring and younger workers struggling with debt, Social Security and retirement security issues “are going to become more important over the coming years,” and presidential hopefuls will have to offer ideas.