Security: Easy to fix, but where's the political courage? Tue Nov 14, 6:33 AM ET Have you ever actually read one of those statements that come each year from the Social Security Administration? In addition to disclosing that your retirement benefit won't support you in the style to which you're accustomed, it includes some interesting - if not entirely reassuring - reading, as government documents go "Unless action is taken soon to strengthen Social Security, in just 12 years we will begin paying more benefits than we collect in taxes," the 2005 statement warns. The 2006 statement says the same thing, only "12 years" has been changed to "11 years." The message is a clear description of Social Security's precarious finances. With people living longer, the program pays an unsustainable amount in benefits and would already be in the red if not for contributions from the massive baby boom generation, now on the verge of retirement. Emerging from last week's elections,President Bush and congressional Democrats vowed bipartisan cooperation in solving the nation's big problems. Fixing Social Security before it's too late should be high on the list. But don't bet on it. So far, leaders of the two major parties have apparently taken vows of silence. Republicans are still smarting from last year's collapse of Bush's plan to partially privatize the program. That plan failed, in part, because the GOP tried to use it to gain partisan advantage with young workers. Democrats counterattacked and declined to offer any alternative. From a political standpoint, omitting Social Security from the political dialogue is easy to understand. Every serious solution requires reducing benefits or raising taxes for someone. But the silence is a troubling response to the recent elections, which sent a clear signal that voters want less partisanship and more problem-solving. In 1983, a year before a presidential election, Congress and then-president Ronald Reagan adopted a bipartisan Social Security rescue plan. Washington's current leaders have no excuse for not taking similar action. Beyond showing that the parties can work together, such a move could also serve as a dress rehearsal for the much bigger challenge of preventing health care costs from pushing the nation into a major financial crisis. Fixing Social Security is actually not a particularly daunting challenge, at least not when compared with Medicare. Based on estimates from the non-profit National Academy of Social Insurance, these approaches could be tried in some combination: â¢Raise theretirement age More than a third of Social Security's long-term funding shortfall would be solved by immediately raising the full retirement age to 67 (which currently applies to people born after 1959) and then gradually pushing it back to 70 for able-bodied workers. â¢Lift the cap. Eliminating the $90,000 income ceiling on employee and employer tax contributions (of 6.2% each) would fix virtually the entire problem. A smaller bite could be had by raising the cap, instead of eliminating it, or by taxing income more than $90,000 at a lower rate. â¢Slow the growth of benefits. Pegging the growth in future benefits to inflation, rather than to average wage increases, would also come close to solving Social Security's long-term problem. Bush offered a variation on this idea last year; he proposed slowing the rate of benefits growth for upper- and middle-income workers while keeping it the same for those on the lower rungs. The president's private investment accounts, which encourage individual savings and could serve as a sweetener for wavering politicians, are a non-starter for Democrats. But they needn't be if offered as an add-on to the current system rather than as a replacement. There is no shortage of ways to shore up Social Security. All that is really needed is a plan to shore up the spines of lawmakers afraid to take on the senior lobby and speak the truth to their constituents. If it takes additional political cover to make that happen, well, retirees Alan Greenspan and Bob Dole, who helped craft the '83 bailout, probably don't have anything more important to do. Unless Bush and the new Congress follow through on their pledges of bipartisan cooperation, next year's Social Security statements will arrive with some different wording. Instead of saying the program will be in the red in 11 years, they will say 10 years. Then nine. The countdown continues.