The Democratic presidential hopefuls will meet for their sixth debate on Thursday, and Ben Ritz is still waiting to hear a discussion about what he says is the biggest issue facing Social Security—how to plug the existing shortfall.

Ritz, the director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, said there is a lot of talk about expanding Social Security benefits, but no talk about filling the current gap in funding.

“There is a reason why when you have a senior living in poverty you would want to expand the benefits and that makes sense, and there are other holes throughout the system that could be patched better,” Ritz said. “But what we have here from (Sen. Elizabeth) Warren and Bernie (Sen. Bernie Sanders) and a couple of other candidates is a broad-based expansion to increase benefits to everybody whether they are living in poverty or whether they are sitting on $10 million.”

To lift the average benefits of retirees, Warren, Sanders and others have floated imposing a payroll tax on income over $250,000 and on income from investments. The payroll tax cap is currently set at $132,900, which means earners are only taxed up to that amount. In other words, someone who earns $132,900 contributes the same amount to Social Security as a billionaire.

Ritz said that when new proposals have come up, the candidates have generally done a reasonable job of saying how they will pay for expansions, but what they haven’t done is say how they are going to pay for the shortfall that’s already there. And the massive expansions would take up all the revenues to fix that problem.

Ritz, who co-authored a proposal called “Funding America’s Future: A Progressive Budget for Equitable Growth,” says it’s crucial to address the deficit because the baby boomer generation is aging. That means the number of workers paying the benefits for each retiree is dropping, leaving the worker/retiree ratio in worse shape.

Back in 2000, he said, there were 3.5 workers paying the benefits for each retiree. Come 2035, that number is going to fall to just over 2 to 1. So a worker currently responsible for financing one-third of the benefits for a beneficiary will eventually be paying half.

Either there has to be a reduction in benefits or the taxes per worker have to be increased, Ritz said.

Social Security has paid out more in benefits than it has raised in revenues since 2010, he said. That’s been possible because Social Security gets credited by the Treasury Department for previous years of surpluses in the trust fund, which still has credit through 2035. “But once that runs out, according to the law Social Security can only pay out the benefit equal to the incoming revenue, so that would equate to an automatic across-the-board 20% cut,” Ritz said.

Plugging the shortfall is basically a math problem requiring lawmakers to take any of a number of drastic steps—decreasing the amount of benefits, raising taxes or reducing the number of years people collect benefits.

Many of the proposals in recent years, Ritz said, have focused on making small changes to the benefits formula, changing the retirement age, raising the payroll tax rate and subjecting more income to the payroll tax.    

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