WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walked back his prior remarks that Social Security benefits should be cut by raising the retirement age, but added that the idea still “ought to be on the table.”
“I made a mistake when I did that because I think having the conversation about how big the problem is is the first step,” Boehner told CNN’s Parker/Spitzer Wednesday night. “And once the American people understand how big the problem is, then you can begin to outline an array of possible solutions.”
Boehner, the most powerful Republican in Washington, made news last summer when he championed raising the retirement age from 65 to 70 for workers not retiring for another 20 years.
Although party leaders largely stayed away from the issue in the run-up to the November midterm elections, the GOP has slowly begun to coalesce this year around a drive to cut Social Security as part of a push to slash government spending.
The top Republicans on the House and Senate budget committees, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and recently Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), have championed a plan that would largely privatize Social Security. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also backed the idea last Sunday.
Ryan, the author of the plan, was chosen by Republican leaders to give the party’s rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
But even as Democrats hammer away at Republicans on the issue, eager to cast them as out-of-touch with average Americans, the new House speaker didn’t rule out increases to the retirement age as one way of cutting Social Security.
“But when you look at life expectancy in America today and you look at the Social Security system, we’re all living far longer than anyone had ever anticipated and the result of these big demographic changes is having a disastrous effect on the Social Security program,” Boehner said Wednesday.
“And so raising the retirement age or considering it is something that ought to be on the table.”
Although the program’s payouts did exceed revenues for the first time last year, the Social Security Trust Fund had a surplus of $2.6 trillion and was expected to remain solvent in its current form until 2037, according to its 2010 trustees report.
This video is from CNN, broadcast Wednesday night.