Roskam, Casten disagree on lifting payroll tax cap for Social Security

As one candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois' 6th District says, "100 percent of the people in this district want to be old someday."

Where Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove, the man behind the quote, and his opponent, Republican incumbent Peter Roskam of Wheaton, differ is on how to stabilize Social Security to ensure older Americans have the means to support themselves.

Casten says solving the Social Security problem will require lifting the payroll tax cap on income that is levied to support the program. The cap now stands at $128,400.

Roskam says that change would hurt many 6th District taxpayers, who are far from extravagantly wealthy, and could harm entrepreneurs the most. He says the move would simply be a tax increase, and "a bad idea" at that.

Casten calls it a math issue. Social Security has a solvency problem, taking in less money from workers now than it will owe to beneficiaries as they retire.

So, Casten says, removing the cap on payroll income that is taxed to provide funding for the 83-year-old program will allow those with higher wages to pay more to support it.

"It's going to hurt those who have the best ability to pay: the ultrawealthy," Casten said during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald. "It's true there will be a higher cost for them. I'd argue we owe it to our seniors."

But Roskam pushed back on Casten's claim that only the "ultrawealthy" would be affected. He said people making $130,000 to $170,000 are common in the district and are not able to handle extra taxes. "I've argued that the 6th District cannot afford Sean Casten's tax plan," Roskam said.

If the cap were removed, workers would continue to be taxed at the Social Security tax rate or 6.2 percent on all earnings, adding an additional tax of about $600 for each $10,000 earned. Those who are self-employed are required to pay the employee and employer portions of the Social Security and Medicare taxes, meaning their total tax rate on all earnings, if the cap were removed, would be 15.2 percent.

Still, Casten said, most of the potential increase in funding would come from those with massive incomes, not those making a few thousand over the $128,400 limit.

"The incremental effect of making an additional $10,000 is not what's going to fund Social Security," Casten said. "It's the millionaires and billionaires who are currently only paying a tax on $128,000 of income a year."

Casten said he supports removing the cap because people are depending even more on Social Security now. When the program launched, Casten said, it was common for employees to retire with a defined-benefit pension from their employer, their own personal savings and Social Security. Now, he said, most pensions are a thing of the past and the more generous companies offer only matches of 401(k) contributions.

"Our political class has raided Social Security Trust Funds and left future generations to solve it," Casten said. "We should be protecting Social Security, not raiding it. We should make sure that this very progressive program is not funded through a very regressive tax, as it is today."

Roskam, though, promotes actions he has taken to strengthen protections for people already receiving Social Security, such as people with disabilities. He voted this spring for a bill that passed in April to help people who manage payments on behalf of those with disabilities and to provide better oversight.

Citing examples of fraud within Medicare, Roskam said rooting out those issues and stopping the wasting of money in Medicare and Social Security is his preferred plan.

"I'm in favor of improving the inefficiencies within the system," Roskam said, "because that's the first and the best place to start."

The candidates are squaring off in the Nov. 6 election to represent the district Roskam has served since 2007. The district spans parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties and draws a "C" across the suburbs from Naperville to Tower Lakes.

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