Social Security as a "Welfare Program" The United States already collects far more Social Security taxes from high earners than other countries do. While payroll tax rates are often higher in other developed countries, the level of wages to which these rates apply is generally lower. The current U.S. wage cap equals around 2.9 times average earnings, far above the 1.9 times average among OECD countries. In Canada and France, payroll taxes are levied only up to the average wage; in the UK, to 1.15 times the average wage; and in Germany and Japan, to 1.5 times. Social Security is already more progressive than the typical OECD country's pension program, and Obama's plan would make it more so. This aspect of Obama's proposal presents perhaps the greatest potential cost: the effect on the character of the program itself. Unlike traditional welfare programs, Social Security has never been strongly progressive. In fact, as originally conceived by Franklin Roosevelt's Committee on Economic Security, high earners would have been exempt from the program, meaning there would have been no redistribution from these individuals to lower earners. Social Security currently has a modest tilt toward low earners, but not enough to impose a stigma on the poor or a work disincentive on the affluent. Many believe the system's relatively low progressivity has helped retain the program's political support over time. In the aphorism of Social Security's founders, "a program for the poor is a poor program." While Social Security benefits are progressive up to the wage ceiling, the cap prevents Social Security from imposing a confiscatory burden on high earners. As of 2005, roughly 84 percent of total wages are subject to Social Security taxes. While down from around 90 percent in the early 1980s, this level is slightly above the program's historical average of 83.3 percent. President Clinton considered lifting the wage ceiling modestly but was skeptical of plans that would, in his terms, "soak" high earners with taxes many times what they could expect to receive in benefits. Eliminating the wage cap outright, Clinton said in 1998 at an event promoting Social Security reform, would "tremendously change the whole Social Security system. . . . We should be very careful before we get out of the idea that this is something that we do together as a nation, and there is at least some correlation between what we put in and what we get out," Clinton said. "You can say, 'well, they owe it to society.' But these people also pay higher income taxes, and the rates are still pretty progressive for people in very high rates."