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John Boehner's Serious Suggestion on Retirement Ages and the Deficit

House Minority Leader John Boehner is getting some attention today for an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—but much of the coverage is missing the point. While his statements on civil unrest and financial reform are splashier, his argument that the retirement age should be increased is a serious and important one.

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House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. (Tim Sloan / AFP-Getty Images)

House Minority Leader John Boehner is getting some attention today for an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—but much of the coverage is missing the point.

Some commentators are focusing on two hyperbolic statements he made, saying that the financial-reform bill under consideration is like "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon" and later saying—perhaps forgetting, say, the Civil War—that "there's a political rebellion brewing, and I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776." But hyperbole is nothing new for politicians, and it's no secret that the GOP opposes the bill and wants to play up opposition to Democratic policies.

Here's the true key statement from the interview: "We’re all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected, and I think raising the retirement age ... and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken."

In the face of plenty of demagoguing by both parties on deficits, Boehner's stark statement is a welcome one. It's a real policy suggestion, and it's one that conveys to voters that they can't get something for nothing: deficit reduction is going to be painful.

Some European countries are raising retirement ages as part of austerity measures: France's decision to raise the age from 60 to the harrowing extreme of 62 practically caused riots, while Britain's new government has announced plans to raise the retirement age from 65 to 66, with further increases likely. But in the U.S., there's been little meaningful discussion on the topic.

That said, just making people work another five years probably isn't quite the silver bullet Boehner suggests. For one thing, as Robert Reich and others point out, Social Security is a less serious problem than Medicare, the costs of which are growing faster. And liberal think-tankers wring their hands over such proposals, worrying that blue-collar workers, who are more likely to lose the ability to do their work at a young age, will bear the brunt of a retirement-age increase. No matter how overblown his rhetoric on the divisions facing the U.S., Boehner deserves credit for offering a serious, fiscally conservative suggestion, and openly discussing the sacrifices Americans will have to make.

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