Commentary: For Social Security, Congress must find solutions that do least harm

Earlier this month, trustees announced that for the first time since 1983, Social Security will pay out more in benefits, by $41 billion, than it receives in payroll taxes. That announcement, along with the long-term insolvency in Social Security funding, should serve as a warning that the nation's public retirement system is in need of repair.

But before reaching out for drastic solutions, Congress and President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- which is considering a variety of changes -- should keep an open mind regarding all the alternatives. Some are definitely worse than others.

Social Security is a vital part of the nation's economy. Roughly one in six Americans, about 53 million -- including retirees, disabled workers, and dependents -- draw Social Security benefits. It's a lifeline for seniors, 60 percent of whom (over 65) get more than half their income from the monthly check.

Over the years, it's been necessary to tweak the system now and again. The payroll tax has climbed from 2 percent in 1937 to 12.4 percent today -- half paid by workers, half by employers. In 1983, Congress enacted comprehensive changes, including raising payroll taxes and reducing benefits.

Now, more tweaks are on the table.

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