House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he "made a mistake" when he suggested raising the retirement age to 70 last year.
The Speaker indicated he was premature in suggesting raising the legal age at which retirees are eligible for full Social Security benefits, since he didn't want to pre-judge a debate over how to fix the entitlement program. He said he wouldn't rule out raising the retirement age, however.
"I made a mistake when I did that, because I think having the conversation about how big the problem is is the first step," Boehner said Wednesday evening on CNN. "And once the American people understand how big the problem is, then you can begin to outline an array of possible solutions."
His comments walk back remarks from late June, when he said the retirement age would eventually need to be raised by five years, from 65 to 70.
"I think that raising the retirement age — going out 20 years, so you're not affecting anyone close to retirement — and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken," he said at the time.
Republicans have been talking tough on entitlements and Social Security, and GOP leaders in the House have expressed dissatisfaction with President Obama's comments about the program during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Boehner and fellow Republicans say there needs to be an "adult conversation" with the public about the program, especially as the spending cut-friendly GOP House is examining ways to address the deficit.
Democrats, for their part, have seized on those fears and sought to use them to their political advantage. They accused Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who delivered the official Republican response to Obama, of wanting to do away with Social Security, through his "Roadmap to America's Future." And liberals condemned proposals by Obama's fiscal commission that would have reformed Social Security and raised the retirement age.
But the Speaker's admission of a mistake didn't mean he necessarily believes a raised retirement age shouldn't be an option.
"When you look at life expectancy in America today and you look at the Social Security system, we're all living far longer than anyone had ever anticipated and the result of these big demographic changes is having a disastrous effect on the Social Security program," he said. "And so raising the retirement age or considering it is something that ought to be on the table."