Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who is vying to be the Republican nominee for U.S. president, took a step into the often taboo topic of Social Security and said she would raise the retirement age in a move to save the entitlement program.
“I’ll raise the retirement age – only for younger people who are just entering the system. Americans are living 15 years longer than they were in the 1930s. If we don’t get out of the 20th century mindset, Social Security and Medicare won’t survive the first half of the 21st century,” Haley said at an event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics Auditorium in Manchester, N.H., on Friday.
She said she would protect those currently receiving Social Security and Medicare.
“We’ll keep these programs the same for anyone who’s in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or older, period. And we’ll preserve Social Security and Medicare for the next generation,” Haley said.
Haley also said she’d limit benefits for the wealthy and expand the Medicare Advantage plans.
Read: Medicare is quietly being privatized. Does anyone care?
“We need to slow the biggest drivers of our national debt. Democrats and Republicans don’t want to admit it, but Americans deserve the truth. Entitlement spending is unsustainable. We need reform. The longer we wait, the harder it gets, and the more painful it will be,” Haley said.
According to the latest estimates, the combined trust funds that back Social Security will be depleted in 2034, and benefits would be cut by more than 20% at that time if no changes are made.
Read: Social Security is now projected to be unable to pay full benefits a year earlier than expected
“I recognize that Social Security and Medicare are the last thing the political class wants to talk about. Well, I just did. Any candidate who refuses to address them should be disqualified. They’ll take your vote and leave you broke. If we do nothing, Social Security will be bankrupt in 10 years. Medicare will be bankrupt in eight years. We need leaders who fight for you – not themselves,” Haley said.
Haley’s comments double-down on her thoughts from a month ago, when she told Bloomberg that “65 is way too low” of a retirement age and any new retirement age would need to be increased in relation to the average U.S. lifespan.
Read: ‘I have been counting on Social Security for many years…I did my part and I expect Congress to do their part’
The current full retirement age for people born in 1960 or later is 67.
Cutting Social Security benefits is so controversial that the program is often referred to as the third rail of politics, because it’s seen as lethal to touch it. Congress has never let Social Security miss a payment, but there have been no substantial changes to the program since the 1980s.
Two congressmen, however, have broached the topic of Social Security with new proposals.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, has a proposal to save Social Security by placing $1.5 trillion over five years in an investment fund separate from the Social Security trust fund.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, an author of the Social Security 2100 Act that calls for taxing workers who earn more than $400,000, adding caregiver credits for people who have to leave the workforce to care for their children or elderly family members, and setting an increased minimum benefit.
Larson on Thursday spoke at an AARP event, telling the audience to rise up and rally politicians to make changes to save Social Security.
“You need to say loud and clear, ‘Fix this,’” Larson said at the event. “You should be on them all the time. Speak out. Scream. Vote.”