TIME Immigration

Over 11 Million Played the U.S. Green Card Lottery This Year

Program may be nixed if Senate overhauls federal immigration policy

More than 11 million people applied for the annual U.S. visa lottery this year, up 11 percent from a year earlier even as the program appears to be on the verge of ending.

Less than than .5 percent of applicants will receive the opportunity to become permanent residents through the popular program, which has provided green cards to lottery winners since 1990.

But the lottery, which accounts for roughly 5 percent of legal immigration according to the Wall Street Journal, may be eliminated if the Senate passes an overhaul of immigration policy this year, with critics arguing that the lottery can be a security risk, provides residency to low-skilled immigrants, and is unfair to foreigners with family connections to the U.S.

Its backers say the system is particularly beneficial for communities with fewer connections to the United States.

“We must continue our tradition of welcoming people from around the world to the United States,” Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, a Democrat from Brooklyn, told the Journal. “I will work to expand the program, which has been critical for many people from Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe who would not otherwise have the opportunity to come here.”

TIME 2014 Election

Sen. Mitch McConnell Holds Press Briefing

New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hosting a press conference at 2pm ET. Watch coverage live here

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was able to stave off a tough challenge to maintain his seat in the Senate. Thanks to a wave of Republican victories across the country, McConnell is also now the the Senate’s new Majority Leader. McConnell will hold a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, about an hour before President Obama does the same. In an interview with TIME, McConnell said as leader he hopes to work with President Obama and Democrats in the Senate.

TIME 2014 Election

Why Did Pollsters Get So Many Races Wrong?

More GOP voters turned out than expected, and more GOP candidates won

Election Night wasn’t just bad for Democrats. It was also bad for pollsters.

Consider the following: Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor lost in an unexpected blowout. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who was widely expected to cruise to victory, is currently ahead by just 12,000 votes. Iowa Senator-elect Joni Ernst, predicted to win narrowly, won by over eight points. Georgia Senator-elect David Perdue, expected to go to a runoff, won outright. Aggregate polling data predicted North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan and Kansas Independent Greg Orman would win by the skin of their teeth, but both lost.

And, in perhaps the worst missed call, Maryland Governor-elect won by nine points when one recent poll had shown him losing by 13.

How did so many predictions go wrong? For one thing, more Republicans turned out than people expected.

Dr. Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium, and Mark Blumenthal, senior polling editor at the Huffington Post, agreed that Republicans outperformed polls both in Senate races and gubernatorial races. Overall, Republicans outperformed their reelection polls by five points in Senate races and about two percent in gubernatorial ones, according to Wang.

“I think a lot of the election polls had the likely electorate models wrong, one way or another,” says Blumenthal. “I would guess that there was probably too many Democrats—that they had people who turned out not to vote in the sample who were disproportionately Democratic leaning.”

There were a few states in particular that shocked Wang and Blumenthal.

“Virginia was obviously a huge surprise last night,” said Wang. “I was watching data come in and at first I thought it was some kind data error because it just didn’t look right—it looked like it was 10 points off.”

“Whether it’s older voters or white voters, but whatever the case, I think the demographic of people who voted was evidently pretty different from the demographic of people who were surveyed,” he added. “I would say that Republican relative over performances were so large that there has to have been something like a collective misjudgment of who likely voters would be.”

“In Virginia and Maryland—we weren’t watching closely enough,” agreed Blumenthal.

The pollsters tempered their critiques of election models, noting that many of the races polled accurately predicted who would win, if not by how much. Some polls, like those tracking the New Hampshire Senate race were “right on the button,” says Wang, and there were only two Senate races that pollsters might have gotten “wrong”—North Carolina and Kansas—but that’s “par for the course” in midterm elections.

The modern problems with polling data—including the cultural and technological shift from landline phones to cell phones making it increasingly difficult to target younger, urban voters—may not have had that much of an impact this time around, says Wang.

“People talk about those deficiencies but those probably were not the cause of this because most of those problems are problems that tend to miss Democratic voters,” says Wang. “If anything these polls obviously underestimated Republican turnout.”

But Blumenthal cautions declaring certain polls with higher GOP turnout as kingmakers, saying that the best polling evaluations still come from voter lists that match respondents with their voting record.

“The cheap, flawed methodologies that are out there—the robopolls that make no effort to compensate for the cell-only population—those are going to get more Republicans and some of those were more ‘accurate’ in the last week, in the last month or two than other methods,” says Blumenthal. “If we all want to figure this out and if we want to do better in polling in the future, those voter lists methods offer us far more tools to diagnose what happened and to chart a better course.”

“I think we’re going to end up drawing the wrong lesson if we just look at who came closest to getting the result right this time,” he added.

TIME Environment

4 Ways the New Top Environment Senator Disagrees With Science

Jim Inhofe
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. gives a victory speech at the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City on Nov. 4, 2014. Sue Ogrocki—AP

Meet Jim Inhofe

Sen. Jim Inhofe is widely expected to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee now that Republicans have won control of the Senate, putting one of Washington’s most strident climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy.

In his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, the Oklahoma Republican argued that climate change science has been manufactured by liberals to scare the American public, push through anti-business regulations and sell newspapers, and that humans should do nothing to regulate greenhouse gases.

Problem is, Inhofe’s opinions are deeply at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, both in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s just a few ways how.

Human activity

Inhofe: The Senator says hundreds of scientists dispute the idea that global warming is the result of human activity.

Science: 97% of international scientists working in fields related to the environmental sciences agree that current global warming trends are the result of human activity. No U.S. or international scientific institutions of any caliber dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change.

Consequences

Inhofe: He says global warming, if it’s happening at all, could be beneficial for humanity. “Thus far, no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists,” he said in a 2003 speech. “In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”

Science: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found unequivocally that climate change will have a catastrophically negative effect on humans. In its fifth report, released Sunday, the panel compiled and analyzed hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change from all over the world and found that the consequences of inaction will lead, and already are leading, to flooding, diminished crop yields, destructive weather, and mass extinction.

Cycles

Inhofe: If global temperatures appear to be warming, that’s just because “[w]e go through these 30-year cycles,” he said on Mike Huckabee’s radio show in 2013.

Science: Dozens of peer-reviewed international studies, including the 2012 State of the Climate peer-reviewed report by the American Meteorological Society (AMS)—which was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries—underscored that current warming trends are happening much more rapidly than any natural warming process, and that it is unquestionably the result of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, released by humans burning fossil fuels.

History

Inhofe: Scientists can’t explain why, eight years ago, “we went into a leveling-out period” in which the earth did not continue to warm.

Science: No such “leveling out” occurred. While individual temperatures spike and plummet every year, climate change science asks a longer-term question: Is the earth warmer than it was fifty years ago? The answer is, again, unequivocally yes. Sea ice has reached a record low, the Arctic has continued to warm, sea temperatures have continued to increase, ocean heat has reached near record-levels and sea levels have reached an all-time high.

TIME Congress

Rand Paul Says These Candidates Lost Because of Hillary Clinton

After GOP won Senate control on Tuesday night

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took to the airwaves Tuesday night as the GOP celebrated its regaining of Senate control, linking Republican victories to putative dissatisfaction with possible 2016 contender Hillary Clinton.

Paul, also a presumptive candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, pointed to Clinton’s campaigning for failed Democratic candidates including Georgia’s Michelle Nunn, Iowa’s Bruce Braley, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes. Paul even initiated the hashtag #HillaryLosers on his Facebook page and Twitter feed.

“Somebody should ask Hillary Democrats why they got wiped out tonight. Clearly, Hillary is yesterday’s news,” Paul said in an email to Breitbart News. He added that the midterm elections on Tuesday should be viewed as a rejection of the former Secretary of State’s track record.

Clinton has not held office since she left the Obama administration as Secretary of State in 2013 but is widely considered to be mulling a run in 2016.

TIME 2014 Election

The Inside Story of How Republicans Gaffe-Proofed Their Candidates

U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst speaks to supporters during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Ernst defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.
U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst speaks to supporters during an election night rally on Nov. 4, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Ernst defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Eager to avoid another Todd Akin, a national Republican group trained Senate candidates on how to avoid campaign-ending gaffes

On Oct. 1, 2013, 16 potential Senate Republican candidates were met at baggage claim in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport by trackers—those annoying, hyperactive, politics-obsessed, camera-wielding twentysomethings whose job is to make a candidate lose his or hers. After a series of fundraising events and policy briefings, the candidates met at the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and recounted their stories with tales of their personal, belligerent Democrat.

“We said that’s interesting; We’d like to show you the video of you and how you reacted to the tracker because we put those trackers on you,” said Sen. Rob Portman, the NRSC Finance Vice Chairman. “The trackers were particularly aggressive … We had footage of them saying things to the tracker they shouldn’t have or being too frustrated with the tracker. I think in some cases even kind of block a tracker from some event.”

“It was just a good experience for a lot of them because most of them had never had the experience with having someone with a camera three inches from their face following them around,” added Portman.

MORE: See all the election results

The NRSC’s airport hounding was unprecedented, according to its chairman, Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran, and so was the size of its media training, which was made mandatory for the first time for candidates that wanted their financial support. “That was our leverage,” said Moran.

The training proved a prescient response to the 2014 cycle in which every move was videotaped: when New Hampshire hopeful Scott Brown canoed the Contoocook River with a county sheriff to promote the state’s tourism industry, third party opposition group American Bridge sent a tracker by kayak.

“[Virginia Republican candidate] Ed Gillespie has had three trackers on him for most of his campaign,” said NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins. “Three separate ones. So it’s just a course of learning how to deal with this new wrinkle in the campaign environment, which is reality TV presence of cameras in your life. You just kind of hunker down. I think the training worked. I don’t think you’ve seen a lot of Republicans saying things that they later regretted.”

That’s a huge victory for a Republican party that has had some high-profile difficulties with trackers and gaffes in the past. In 2006, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) lost a very close race after referring to a Democratic tracker as a “macaca.” In 2012, Todd Akin, the Senate GOP candidate in Missouri, had a gaffe so big—“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”—that it destroyed his candidacy and imperiled Republicans’ chances to take the Senate. In this cycle, no candidate has had made a mistake as big as Akin, according to John Sides, a George Washington University Associate Professor and co-author of the book The Gamble, which punctured convention wisdom on the weight of various gaffes during the 2012 presidential election.

“If you go back to the Missouri polls, you’ll see the big swing after those remarks,” says Sides. “None of the purported gaffes this cycle—not [Iowa Democrat] Bruce Braley’s, not any Senate candidate’s—have had that large of an effect.”

Of course, there were some notable Republican gaffes this cycle. Iowa candidate Joni Ernst flirted in her primary with some United Nations conservative conspiracy theories and Obama impeachment, talk she dismissed during the general election. There were also two candidates seen as insufficiently local—Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Brown—who had some embarrassing flubs. Roberts and his campaign repeatedly fanned the fire sparked by a New York Times report that he doesn’t own a home in Kansas. (“Every time I get an opponent—I mean, every time I get a chance, I’m home,” he said in a July radio interview.) Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, had some difficulty placing a New Hampshire county during a debate (although the moderator who pressed him later apologized) and interchanged the two states back in December.

But it’s notable that Sides mentioned Braley, a Democrat, in considering the biggest gaffes this cycle. NRSC Political Director Ward Baker said the group began their three-day media sessions early—in March 2013—before candidates even announced they would enter their races. The NRSC researched the candidates’ backgrounds and asked them about everything from their property taxes to potential red flags found on their Facebook profile pages. (They reportedly spent $250,000 on researching Democrat and Republican candidates in 2013.) The NRSC showed candidates polling data on what’s important in their state and then put them on camera and played them their response to hone their messages.

“[We] ran them through the ringer,” said Baker. “I mean it was pretty tough.”

The NRSC also showed once a day a “blooper film” of other candidates’ inappropriate responses to trackers. “I believe in repetition,” said Baker. “Some of our candidates have been through media training and met with our debate team and media trainers 15 to 20 times.”

Referring to Braley’s slip-up this year, Baker noted with pride: “Well none of our candidates have said that they wouldn’t want Chuck Grassley to Chair [the] Judiciary [Committee] because he’s a farmer.”

TIME 2014 Election

What the House Midterm Results Meant

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 11, 2014.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 11, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The House GOP increased its majority by at least 11 seats

The House has been a bit neglected during the 2014 election midterms—and for good reason. The question was never who would control the majority, but how many more seats would Speaker Boehner carry.

There wasn’t the drama of the Senate or even the governors’ races, but on Tuesday, House Republicans appeared set to increase their majority to the largest its been since 1946 by capturing at least 11 seats. The wins were even more impressive considering there were only around 40 competitive seats this cycle out of 435 total.

As expected, the national climate proved favorable to Republicans. Consider the races of New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm, Democratic Georgia Rep. John Barrow and West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall.

Staten Island representative Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent, who is facing a 20-count federal indictment and earlier this year he threatened to break a reporter in half “like a boy” on camera, prevailed with 55 percent of the vote. On Saturday, the New York Daily News gave an already infamous endorsement digging the IQ of Democrat Domenic Recchia: “At least Michael Grimm can string three sentences together in arguing that he deserves the presumption of innocence on federal criminal charges stemming from his past operation of a restaurant.”

There are no more white House Democrats in the Deep South now that Republican businessman Rick Allen beat Barrow, who lost his bid for a sixth term representing eastern Georgia for a variety of reasons, including a redrawn district and the usual midterm demographic challenges. Barrow was praised, however, for his creative ads. “Anybody who says John Barrow isn’t getting things done is lying like a no-legged dog,” says a woman in one this year.

Rahall, who has been in Congress for 38 years, was also not so lucky and lost to state senator Evan Jenkins. The President’s approval rating in West Virginia is in the 20s and the state elected Shelly Moore Capito, its first female senator ever, and its first Republican in 56 years.

In a press conference Tuesday night, Rep. Steve Israel, the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, repeatedly reminded reporters at their headquarters in Washington D.C. of the “echo of history”: the president’s party loses on average 29 House seats during midterm elections. “This is indisputably a very tough terrain,” he said.

Of course, there were some exceptions. Democrat Gwen Graham, a strong campaigner with a sterling political background (she’s the daughter of former Democratic Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham) and a big, nearly $1 million boost from House Majority PAC, beat Republican Congressman Steve Southerland in one of the most expensive races in the country. Southerland, who’s known for his efforts to overhaul the food stamp program was ridiculed for hosting an all-male fundraiser this cycle.

Republicans will continue to have an issue with diversity. The House GOP gap with women and minorities is likely to become even larger, according to Dave Wasserman, a House election analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The demographic gap between the two parties in the House is likely to reach a new record high,” he wrote Monday. He noted that in 2012, white men became a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time, while 89 percent of House Republicans remain white men.

Still, there were a few big wins for Republican female candidates: At 30, New York Republican Elise Stefanik will become the youngest woman to become a Congresswoman and Mia Love of Utah could be the first black Republican woman in Congress. (Polls showed a slight Love lead after midnight.)

The major question now is what Republicans will do with control of both houses. In a statement Tuesday, Boehner wrote that Congress will “debate and vote soon” on jobs and energy bills stalled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats. Many Republicans are looking forward to the extra breathing room in passing legislation, as Boehner will have an easier time obtaining 218 votes despite new Tea Party types.

“The governing coalition, those who want to solve problems and advance common sense proposals that can receive bipartisan support at home, is going to grow even larger,” says Rory Cooper, the former communications director for the recently retired Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “Whenever you have more Republican members, it will be easier for leadership to pass conservative priorities by simple math.”

Other Republicans are wary of new rabble-rousers, who may look to be even more ambitious with a new Senate majority that is still under the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation.

Ron Bonjean, the communications director to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, says that there could be some governing problems with an enlarged majority. “The first is setting the expectation level with the Republican House members about how much the Senate Republican conference can achieve with their majority,” he says. “That is the biggest challenge they’ll face.”

What is absolutely clear is that expanding the House GOP’s hold was widely expensive. House races ran 481,300 ads to the tune of nearly $235 million, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, and that’s just through October 23. House Republican and Democratic candidates are expected to spend around $941 million overall this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and tens of millions more were spent by outside groups and the parties.

TIME Election 2014

Here Are the 7 Most Memorable Political Ads of 2014

From castrating hogs to wrestling alligators

More than 900,000 campaign ads aired on TV this election cycle just in races for the U.S. Senate alone. Given the sheer volume, then, it’s amazing that any of them break through the clutter.

Some ads got attention for being scary, desperate or just outright dishonest. But others managed to break through by being funny — intentionally or not — or clever or hitting the viewers’ emotions just right.

Here’s a look at seven of the most memorable ads of the 2014 elections.

1. Joni Ernst “Squeal”

“I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” Joni Ernst’s ballsy first TV ad launched her from a relative unknown to the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa and a political name on the national stage. According to the Washington Post, the ad got 400,000 views in its first three days on YouTube. Now, seven months later, she’s still known as the candidate who used to castrate pigs.

2. Terri Lynn Land “Really?”

Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land’s first TV ad was most unusual for what it did not say, and became memorable for all the wrong reasons. Mocking the idea that she was part of a “war on women,” Land asks viewers to “think about that for a moment” while she sips her coffee for an agonizingly slow 12 seconds of silence. The ad was meant to be sarcastic and clever, but it was roundly ridiculed, even by members of Land’s own party.

3. David Perdue “Outsider”

Republican David Perdue’s first ad in the Georgia Senate race accused various national politicians of being crybabies by portraying them as actual babies. While criticizing Congress for being childish and ineffectual isn’t a groundbreaking campaign strategy, the image of a crying infant sucking on a stethoscope with “Paul” on his shirt (meaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist) certainly stuck with viewers.

4. Mitch McConnell “Home”

An ad for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went against the grain. Not only was it a full minute long (an eternity in TV ad time), but it also skipped the hot-button issues to focus on a Kentucky woman who got help from McConnell in getting her daughter back from an ex-husband. “I can’t even talk about him without getting emotional,” she says of McConnell as her eyes fill with tears. The emotionally affecting ad was aimed at softening the image of the often-stiff pol, and it worked.

5. Rob Maness “Gator”

Every election, candidates try to signify their local ties with a quirky hobby. This time, it was Alaska Sen. Mark Begich riding a snowmobile and West Virginia state Senate candidate Duane Zobrist kayaking and engaging in some light falconry. But neither holds a candle to Louisiana Senate candidate Rob Maness, who deftly bound the jaws of an alligator while making an extended metaphor about career politicians in Washington in this ad.

6. Alison Lundergan Grimes “Skeet Shooting”

These days, when a candidate says they’re shooting an ad, you have to wonder if they mean it literally. Ever since West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin won election with an ad where he shot a bull’s eye at a cap and trade bill, candidates have been taking up arms. The most memorable this time around was Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who went skeet-shooting to showcase her differences with President Barack Obama. The ad was a two-fer, since she also poked fun at McConnell’s own awkward gun handling.

7. J.D. Winteregg “When The Moment Is Right”

OK, so technically this was a viral video and not really an ad. And yes, it makes a pretty tacky joke about Speaker John Boehner’s last name, saying he has a case of “electile dysfunction.” But considering the odds facing Republican J.D. Winteregg, the fact that anyone at all was talking about this goofy video shows that the strategy worked. Winteregg got only 23% in the GOP primary, though, so Boehner got the last laugh.

MONEY Social Security

Here’s a Quick Guide to Fixing Social Security

Band-Aid on Social Security card
John Kuczala—Getty Images

These changes could easily balance the program for the next 75 years. But reaching consensus on the mix of reforms is the real challenge.

Social Security likely will move back to center stage after this week’s elections. The program’s finances have eroded bit by bit for years, drawing calls for change every year. But nothing has been done. Now Congress could continue kicking this can down the road. Or it could decide to actually tackle the problem and change things, most likely as part of a broader look that also includes Medicare and Medicaid.

With favorable prospects for a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, stories already abound about raising the retirement age, changing the annual cost-of-living adjustment or raising the ceiling on earnings subject to the payroll tax.

AARP, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare and other Social Security support groups have gone on the offensive. Far from just defending the program from cuts, they are speaking out aggressively about the merits of raising benefits

All of which makes a recent report from the Social Security Administration particularly timely. It reviews more than 120 ideas for changing Social Security and calculates how each would affect the program’s future finances. The report was overseen by Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration. If any source is both informed and free from political spin, it is this one.

Within this list are enough changes to balance the program several times over during the next 75 years. But then, this has never been the issue. Rather, the contentious debate has been over the “right” mix of changes. And people have not been able to agree on that.

Here’s a quick guide to the reforms that would have the biggest impact, according to the report. It is tempting to just add up the financial impact of each change to see if they erase the Social Security shortfall. But, as the report notes, some reforms would affect others. So although the sum of impact of the changes will give you a ballpark estimate, the actual results are likely to be a bit different.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). The annual cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security benefits (1.7% for 2015) has received lots of attention, primarily from a proposal to substitute a less-generous “chained” Consumer Price Index for the current inflation measure used to set the yearly change. Using the chained CPI would close 19% of the program’s projected shortfall. A more draconian measure—reducing the COLA by a percentage point from what it would otherwise be—would cut 61% of the shortfall all by itself. However, senior’s groups think the COLA should be increased to more accurately reflect the larger weight of health costs for older consumers. This proposal would raise the shortfall by 13%.

Monthly Benefits. Adjusting the complex formulas used to calculate benefits could make big dents in the shortfall. Right now, benefit increases are tied to changes in average wages. Linking them instead to general price inflation could cut as much as 90% of the system’s shortfall. That’s because wages historically have risen by more than the rate of inflation, so this change would effectively reduce the size of future benefit increases. There also are a slew of suggested sweeteners that would reduce the pain of smaller increases, although they tend not to add much to the shortfall.

Retirement Age. The normal retirement age for benefits is now 66 and set to rise to 67 in the year 2027. Raising it to 68 over a six-year period would shave 15% from the shortfall, while increasing it to 69 over 12 years would cut 35% off the long-term deficit. Raising the age to 70 over a shorter time period, and automatically adjusting it to reflect expected longevity gains, would cut the shortfall by an even larger 48%—but that’s only if the hike is combined with an increase in the earliest age for claiming benefits from 62 to 64. Reducing benefits to early retirees is strongly opposed by senior and labor groups who argue that workers in physically demanding jobs are often forced to retire early for health reasons.

Payroll Taxes and Covered Earnings. The system could be balanced by raising the payroll tax rate from its current level of 12.4% (paid half and half by employees and employers). There is a separate payroll tax for Medicare. Other proposals would raise the wage ceiling subject to payment taxes, which will rise to $118,500 in 2015. These suggestions would have large effects on program shortfalls. Simply eliminating the wage ceiling for employer payments would cut 50% from the projected 75-year deficit. Raising the ceiling so that 90% of earned wages are subject to Social Security taxes would cut 48% of the deficit. The stiffest medicine – raising the tax rate from 12.4% to 15.5%—would balance the program all by itself, and then some. On the flip side, a proposal to exempt people with more than 45 years of earnings from payroll taxes would widen the deficit by 11%. Such a change, advocates say, would improve retiree incomes and stop penalizing older workers, who must continue payroll taxes even thought their benefits do not rise as a result.

Trust Fund Investments. Social Security reserves are now invested in a special issue of U.S. Treasury Securities. Putting some of these funds into the stock market has long been a high priority of many conservatives, and strongly opposed by liberal groups. If 40% of trust funds were invested in stocks, and if they earned an annual return of 6.4%, after calculating the effects of inflation, this would close 21% of the program’s long-term funding shortfall. For comparison, the report assumed the long-term returns of the special issue of Treasury securities would be 2.9% a year, after inflation.

Getting the “right” mix of changes would be terrific, but enacting even a mediocre compromises next year would be far, far better. Think about a series of trade-offs. One side might get a later retirement age and reductions in the rate of future benefit growth, from changes to the COLA and annual wage base. The other side could get hefty hikes in payroll taxes for wealthier workers and more protection for lower-income, early retirees. Now if we could only get Congress to start the negotiations.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. His book, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” will be published early next year by Simon & Schuster. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

More on Social Security:

3 Smart Fixes for Social Security and Medicare

Social Security is the Best Deal

Can We Save Social Security?

TIME Congress

No Good Options for GOP on Obama’s Immigration Move

Immigration Reform Rally / Protest in Tacoma, Washington
With reform stalled in Congress, activists are urging Obama to act on his own. Jason Redmond—REUTERS

Republicans may sue the president, but it's not likely to get far in the courts

When President Obama signs an executive order giving temporary deportation relief and work authorization for millions of undocumented immigrants, Republicans across the country and on Capitol Hill will blow up. But there’s not much they can do about it that will make a difference.

All Republican options have fatal flaws. Pass a bill to overrule the executive action? Obama will veto it. Try to override the veto? Not enough votes in the Senate, even if Republicans control it. Attach a rider to a government funding bill? End up with another unpopular government shutdown. Sue the president? Spend lots of taxpayer money and wait months if not years only to get rejected by a judge.

Still, the last option on the list may be the one Republicans go with.

While they are keeping their options open before the President shows his hand—as my colleague Alex Altman reports, it’s still unclear how big he will go—some have coalesced in favor of a lawsuit as the bare minimum response to what they think will be a monumental case in executive overreach.

This week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said on Fox that his recommendation to the Republican congressional leadership is to “immediately bring suit and seek an injunction restraining the president,” adding that he and his staff have been in “considerable communication” with House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about how to respond to the President’s actions.

Other Republicans have advocated for a lawsuit, including Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who would “absolutely” support litigation to prevent the President’s executive action, according to spokesman Mike Reynard. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) have supported it in the past. And on Wednesday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul implied that he would too.

“Our Constitution requires the President to work with Congress to enact laws, not ignore Congress or the will of the people,” said McCaul in an emailed statement. “If the President decides to once again go it alone and grant amnesty through executive order by the end of the year, my colleagues and I will have no choice but to do everything in our power to stop him.”

Over the summer, the House passed a Blackburn-sponsored bill designed to freeze the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—limiting the number of children granted deferred deportation and work permits—and bar the President from taking future executive actions to expand efforts to postpone deportations. But the bill went nowhere in the Democratic-majority Senate and even under a Republican Senate it would face an Obama veto.

A senior House Republican aide familiar with the issue says that expanding the litigation the House authorized in July over the Affordable Care Act is “certainly one option,” although no decisions have been made by the party conference. All that would need to happen to sue the president over his executive order is for the House to take another vote. (One reason, perhaps, why the previous suit has not yet been filed—first pointed out by Washington Monthly—is that the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service agreed with legal experts in that the claim had no legal merit.) “We’ll continue to consult with our members and make a decision if and when the president acts,” says the aide.

The Republicans’ response could very well depend on what the President does, “if and when” that occurs. Expanding DACA to include some family members of those already eligible could provoke a different reaction than smaller measures, such as expanding work permits for those in the agricultural or high-skilled tech sector, which business groups have pushed. Immigration advocates counter that Obama might as well go big—affecting the lives of several million undocumented immigrants instead of around a million—because the GOP response is going to hold the same shrieking tenor no matter what.

A lawsuit may have little merit besides making some noise. Last month, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Council distributed a letter sent to the White House signed by 136 immigration law experts claiming that the President has the authority to use prosecutorial discretion in preventing large numbers of undocumented immigrants from being deported. In July, one of those experts, Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell University Law School, told TIME that the President has “wide discretion when it comes to immigration,” adding that expanding DACA falls “within the president’s inherent immigration authority.” In a one-word statement, distinguished Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe told TIME that the GOP claim was “unlikely” to have standing.

Of course, the legal merit of the lawsuit may not be all that important—simply announcing one could keep GOP Congressmen content with a ready response to constituent and reporter questioning in the immediate term. If and when the conservative backlash dies down, the party will be fully focused on 2016, when the GOP can undo Obama’s legacy by repainting the Oval Office red.

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