Senator Dole's good idea
One of the most interesting proposals being bandied about in Washington these days is that of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert Dole. To wit: have President Reagan call a special postelection session of Congress to resolve the difficult financial problems troubling the social security system. The session, which would be held sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, would come after the November congressional elections but before the start of a new Congress next year. It is expected that the 15-member presidential commission studying the future of social security would have issued its report by then, although it need not do so until early next year.
The senator's idea deserves support from the White House. It is not just the complexity of the social security system that warrants an entire session devoted to the issue, though that alone would be reason enough. Rather, the main rationale would be to sidestep the harsh political wrangling that has to date so polarized the issue as to make meaningful reform impossible. The administration has seen its own proposals for changes in benefit formulas ignored by lawmakers for more than a year now.
Lest the partisans of differing proposals regarding social security fret that ''reform'' would take place in such an unusual context, it should be remembered that any final action would still be subject to review by Congress next year, after newly elected lawmakers have been sworn into office.
The urgency for legislative action was underscored once again recently by congressional budget office head Alice Rivlin. She told the presidential commission that lawmakers would either have to slash benefits or raise taxes by some $14 billion just to ensure that checks continue to be mailed out through 1985. Without action all three trust funds will be running low in 1984.
As noted on this page before, there are any number of steps that lawmakers could take to make the system solvent in a short-term sense, as well as meet the longer-term challenge that will arise when the current ''baby boom'' generation - now working - enters retirement age about the turn of this century. Remedies include taxing benefits of those persons not dependent on such income for actual necessities, and who are above a set income level; increasing payroll taxes; basing benefits on actual contributions, although providing a floor for the truly needy; raising the retirement or eligibility age; changing benefit formulas; shifting financing of the medicare portion to general revenues; merging federal retirees - who have their own pension program - into the social security system itself.
The social security program has proven to be one of the great accomplishments of American government. But because social security and medicare now constitute almost a third of all federal spending, it is absolutely vital that lawmakers sit down and make the hard choices necessary to put the system's house in order. What better time than later this year, as called for by Senator Dole.