NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, while politicians keep fighting, the outgoing head of Social Security is warning today that the program is fraying from neglect.
Michael Astrue is on his way out, but that's not stopping him from speaking out. He says the program is unsustainable on its current course and both parties need to get a grip on this.
To Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn.
Congressman, always great having you, sir.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, D - SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you so much for having me.
CAVUTO: You know, we should put this in perspective. He's saying that, look, ostensibly, all this hits the fan in 2033, 20 years from now, when we essentially run out of options, run out of cash and maybe run out of Social Security. We're not there, but he is saying that by ignoring little things we can do now, we all are but guaranteeing big problems later.
Why can't we then do little things now?
CLYBURN: I don't know why we can't, Neil, because I am very much for doing something now. You may know that I have been advocating for quite some time now that we lift the caps that we currently have.
CAVUTO: The salary caps.
CLYBURN: As you know, Social Security is capped out at around $113,000.
That essentially means if you make $113,000 a year, you pay Social Security income on 100 percent of your income or Social Security tax on 100 percent of your income. If you make $225,000 a year, you are only paying it on 50 percent of your income.
So, I have been an advocate for taking a look at getting rid of the caps on income over $250,000.
CAVUTO: But, you see, that's not -- I know where you're coming from, Congressman, but I guess it's a way to tax more to get more money. I could see what you mean about it, but...
CLYBURN: No, it's a way...
CAVUTO: But why not either start looking at raising the retirement age, grandfathered in over decades, but stuff like that that would be a quid to the taxing quo, you know what I mean?
CLYBURN: Yes, I know exactly what you mean, Neil, but think about what you just said.
You're going to say that, for you and I, we worked in air conditioned environments, we're going to have the same retirement age as the coal miners out there.
CAVUTO: No, no, no, I could even delineate between a coal miner and manufacturer, if you wanted to do that.
CAVUTO: And, by the way, I also want to be careful here. What I want to do is look at ways that if indeed Americans are living longer and if you want to make separate allowances for those who work in the onerous conditions and very hard, labor-intensive jobs -- and, by the way, mine is very intensive.
CAVUTO: I don't how difficult you know it is to read a prompter, Congressman.
CLYBURN: I know how tough that is.
CAVUTO: But if -- let me roll up to my next question here.
CAVUTO: But if you were to just do something like that, and scale it in, grandfather it in, Congressman, over decades, then we would be recognizing that, A, Americans are living longer and we could find a better way to afford the benefits we're providing now that aren't sustainable now.
CLYBURN: Well, if you want to take a good look at that, you may recall, I have been saying the dictionary of occupational titles, a big book that I'm very familiar with, let's take a look at the dictionary of occupational titles and let's start setting out our retirement eligibility based upon the kinds of jobs we hold in our society.
CAVUTO: OK, fine, fine, we can argue over who gets what.
CAVUTO: But you're open to raising the retirement age?
CLYBURN: I'm open to finding creative ways to be fair, to get this thing done.
CAVUTO: I just want to be clear on the basic math that's involved here.
What the Social Security administrator is saying, that we're now having fewer people paying into a system, more people will be taking out. It used to be 30-1 workers paying in to every beneficiary. We're very close now to it being 2-1. By the next 20 years, it's going to be almost a 1-1. That, as you know, sir, cannot be sustained, right?
CLYBURN: Well, remember, when we were paying 17, 20-1, the threshold was much very -- much lower.
CLYBURN: I'm talking about the cap. It was very -- lower.
CAVUTO: But you're not resting it all on the cap, right? You're not resting it all on just raise the cap, get a lot more money in from taxpayers and call it a day? You're not...
CLYBURN: I'm for coming up with a system that would guarantee 75-year sovereignty. I have the program. It's a proposal that we have been talking about for a long time. I wish that I could get you to help advocate for it.
CAVUTO: OK. I look forward to it.
But if you include me with the coal miners, Congressman, we'll be off to the races.
CAVUTO: Sir, thank you.
CLYBURN: I'm all for doing that.
CAVUTO: It's always a pleasure having you. Thank you very, very much.
CLYBURN: Thank you so much.