The Social Security trustees projected this week that funding for retirement benefits will run short in 2033, three years sooner than had been estimated a year ago. After that, the program will be able to pay only about 75 percent of the amount now promised to retirees and the disabled. That’s still a long way off, and lawmakers may not want to meddle with Social Security in an election year. But the longer Congress waits to deal with the problem, the harder it will be to solve.

The last time lawmakers made significant changes to Social Security was in 1983, when they raised payroll taxes and gradually increased the retirement age. By the mid-1990s, however, it became clear that the changes had not gone far enough, and the program was projected to run short of cash before the last of the baby boomers is off the books.

President Obama’s latest budget proposal says he is “committed to making sure that Social Security is solvent and viable for the American people, now and in the future,” but such talk is easy; to date, he has offered no proposal to shore up the system’s finances. Rather than simply taking shots at what his GOP opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has suggested, the president should offer a plan of his own and engage the public in a debate over the options. The program’s problems may seem distant, but the time to start fixing them is now.