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Catfood Commissioner Alan Simpson is just one of many Social Security haters that have done their level best to create a generational war over Social Security and Medicare. They do it by undermining the faith in the programs of younger people by constantly warning that the programs are in crisis and won't be there for them, with the not-so-subtle implication that it's because all the old people are sucking up all the resources.

It's worked to a degree, but not wholly, according to new polling from the Pew Research Center. Majorities of people in the 30-64 age bracket say that protecting entitlements is more important than deficit reduction, as does a plurality—48 percent to 41—in the 18-29 group.

There's few surprises in the policies that people most support when options for changing Social Security are queried.

Of the three proposals for changing Social Security tested in the survey, the most popular is the idea of raising payroll taxes on high-income earners. Two-thirds of all adults favor this proposal, while 29% oppose it. A smaller majority of adults (55%) say they would favor reducing Social Security benefits for seniors with higher incomes; 39% oppose this proposal. When asked about gradually raising the age at which people can begin to receive Social Security benefits, only 38% were in favor, while a majority (56%) opposed this idea.

The public has a similar set of views on possible reforms to the Medicare program. Six-in-ten adults say they would favor reducing Medicare benefits for high-income seniors (33% oppose this). At the same time, only about one-third of adults (35%) say they would favor gradually raising the age of eligibility for receiving Medicare.

That's encouraging, considering how little coverage the idea of raising the payroll tax cap has been given in the traditional media, compared to other ideas like means-testing or raising the eligibility age. That idea, for either Social Security or Medicare, seems to appeal mostly to people who have cushy enough jobs to think working until they're 70 sounds just fine. For the rest of the American workforce, it's not quite as attractive a solution.

There are certainly strong options for strengthening these programs that have both public support, could be beneficial to the economy overall, and don't harm any vulnerable populations. Raising or eliminating entirely the payroll tax cap, applying the tax to unearned income, and expanding the programs to younger people could actually help make them more viable, particularly Medicare. An infusion of younger, healthier people paying Medicare premiums would help shore it up. Lowering the retirement age could help alleviate the problem of the older unemployed Americans. These solutions need to be as much in the mix for talking about stabilizing these social insurance programs as cutting them is.

At least that seems to be what the public is saying.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 03:48 PM PST.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders and Daily Kos.

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