But Mr. Akabas said more work will be needed to improve retirement security. "Once you make real improvements that people can feel on the private-sector side … then it's much easier to have the conversation about the tougher choices that are necessary for Social Security," Mr. Akabas said.
Last Congress, the now-retired Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who chaired the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, proposed a bill to match benefit payments to the revenue collected from payroll taxes by cutting benefits three ways: raising the full retirement age to 69, trimming benefit levels for higher-income people, and imposing smaller cost-of-living adjustments for all, with no COLAs for people who now earn more than $85,000. The bill never received a vote.
In February, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced legislation that expands Social Security benefits. The Social Security Expansion Act would further tax people earning more than $250,000 a year. Current law caps the amount of income subject to payroll taxes at $132,900.
But the bill that has garnered the most attention on this issue is the Social Security 2100 Act, introduced by Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., current chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, that aims to shore up Social Security while implementing an across-the-board benefit increase for current and new beneficiaries and improving cost-of-living adjustments, among other provisions. The added benefits would be paid for by gradually increasing the contribution rate beginning in 2020 so that by 2043, workers and employers each would pay 7.4% toward Social Security, instead of the 6.2% today, according to the congressman's website. The bill would also tax payroll income above $400,000 at a 12.4% clip.
Mr. Larson said in an interview he was confident the bill will get a vote in the House and ultimately pass the chamber before the summer recess. "When you introduce a bill and it has 204 original co-sponsors, that's usually a pretty good indication that it's going to pass," he said.
While a Democratic bill passing in the House is one thing, getting through a Republican-controlled Senate would be much more difficult. Many Republicans and moderate Democrats in both chambers will likely take issue with the bill's tax increases, Mr. Akabas said.
Mr. Larson said it's time Congress faces the reality with respect to Social Security and it's their responsibility to ensure the program remains solvent.
"If you never have to vote on something, then you can kick the can down the road and profess concern for the elderly, and Social Security, and say all the right things … but what this bill will do is provide a moment of reckoning for when people are going to have to decide where they are on the issue," Mr. Larson said.