A Huge Step Forward In The Quest To Expand Social Security
This morning, Representative John Larson (D-CT), Chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the introduction of the Social Security 2100 Act. He informed those in attendance and those around the country watching online that the bill has over 200 original cosponsors. That many original cosponsors is truly remarkable and underscores how important and wise the legislation is.
The Social Security 2100 Act would increase Social Security’s modest benefits for the 63 million Americans receiving those earned benefits today, as well as every single American who will receive them in the future. Those Americans include Gold Star families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our defense, children of other deceased or disabled workers, seniors and so many others.
It would also increase the minimum Social Security benefit earned by those who labor at low wages and contribute to Social Security for their entire working lives. The minimum benefit, which has eroded since its enactment in 1972, is increased because the cosponsors do not believe Americans should be forced to retire into poverty after a lifetime of work and contributing. In addition, the legislation would provide a more accurate measure for Social Security’s yearly cost of living adjustment, so that beneficiaries will no longer see their modest but vital benefits gradually erode from inflation.
Moreover, the legislation would ensure that every penny of all these promised benefits will be paid in full and on time through the rest of the 21st century and beyond. That will provide perhaps the most important benefit of all: Peace of mind, security, that if disaster strikes in the form of death or disability Social Security will be there, month after month, providing the economic security we have earned and deserve. And peace of mind knowing that those of us who have the good fortune of a very long life will not outlive our Social Security. This is in sharp contrast to savings, which may be gone towards the end of life when expenses may be highest.
It is so fitting that the Social Security 2100 Act is being introduced on January 30, the anniversary of the birth of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the father of Social Security.
When President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law, he explained that the legislation “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.” For the first few decades after enactment, policymakers built carefully and deliberately, brick by brick, on that cornerstone.
Congress and the president increased benefits as the country grew wealthier. In addition, protections were added, including for spouses and children, as well as for workers who had to cease work because of serious disabilities.
But Congress has added no new protections nor voted increases in benefits for over half a century, despite the fact that the nation is much wealthier today than it was then. What stopped the building was a billionaire-funded campaign to undermine Social Security. That decades-long campaign succeeded in convincing too many policymakers, members of the mainstream media and the general public that not only can’t we afford to expand Social Security, we can’t even keep the promises already made.
Fortunately, the over 200 original cosponsors of the Social Security 2100 Act are too wise to buy into those lies. They know that the question of whether to expand or cut Social Security is a question of values. They understand that the wealthiest country in the world at the wealthiest moment in its history can afford to expand Social Security.
The cosponsors also recognize that Social Security’s vital benefits are more important than ever. Reliance on Social Security benefits will only increase in the future as a result of the decline in traditional, employer-sponsored pensions and the proven inadequacy of 401(k) savings plans.
They know that Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected benefit that one will never outlive. Indeed, Social Security returns in benefits more than 99 cents of every dollar collected. In short, Social Security is strikingly superior to all private sector counterparts.
For all these reasons, the cosponsors recognize that Social Security is a solution. Expanding Social Security is a solution to our looming retirement income crisis where most workers will be unable to retire without drastic reductions in their standards of living. Expanding Social Security is also a solution to our perilous and growing income and wealth inequality, and the financial squeeze on families.
The American people overwhelmingly support expanding, not cutting, Social Security because they understand its importance. A poll taken during the 2016 Presidential primaries revealed that supporters of the different candidates disagreed on nearly every issue – except for Social Security. 73% of Donald Trump supporters, 66% of Ted Cruz supporters, 71% of Hillary Clinton supporters and 72% of Bernie Sanders supporters all agreed that “Social Security benefits should not be reduced.” Moreover, in a poll taken in the lead-up to the 2018 election, 66 percent of voters said that they were more likelyto back candidates who support “expanding and increasing Social Security benefits.”
The Democratic Party is united in its support for expanding Social Security. The 2016 Democratic Platform included a strong plank in support of expanding benefits. And all but one of the most highly visible announced or likely candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination support expanding, not cutting, Social Security: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke have all declared their support for expanding, not cutting, Social Security. (The lone exception is Joe Biden.)
The more than 200 cosponsors of the Social Security 2100 Act are evidence that the Democrats are serious. Consistent with that seriousness of purpose, Chairman Larson is committed to holding hearings on expanding Social Security not just in Washington but around the country. Those hearings will be an opportunity for a national conversation around Social Security, and why expanding it is such wise policy.
The momentum for Social Security expansion won’t stop with hearings. Representative Larson wants the House of Representatives to debate and vote on the Social Security 2100 Act this year. That will force House Republicans to go on the record.
Not a single Republican has cosponsored the Social Security 2100 Act, despite its conservative elements. These include a tax cut for middle-income seniors and other Social Security beneficiaries who are currently required to pay federal income tax on their benefits. They also include the restoration of Social Security to long-range actuarial balance for three quarters of a century and beyond. In addition to requiring the wealthy to contribute their fair share, the legislation would gradually increase the Social Security contributions (FICA) of workers and their employers. (FICA, which currently applies to wages up to $132,900, would also apply to wages above $400,000; The FICA rate, currently at 6.2% on employees and employers, would increase by .05% a year — 50 cents a week for an average worker — until it reaches 7.4%.)
A House vote on Social Security will require Republicans to go on the record. Will they vote for Social Security or against it? If they vote against what is proposed, will they offer an alternative or simply vote no? And, when it passes the House, what will Mitch McConnell do? Will he allow a vote in the Senate? If not, why not?
Those politicians who fail to join the march to expand Social Security will pay the price on Election Day, since they are out of step with even the most conservative voters on this issue. Even though Republican voters are very supportive of protecting and expanding Social Security, Republican politicians have long refused to listen. Instead, they demand cuts at the behest of their billionaire donors. But a Democratic House will not let them hide behind vague language of wanting to “save” Social Security.
Instead, Republicans must face a choice. Either they can continue to oppose the will of the people, and hand Democrats a prime talking point for the 2020 election. Or they can get on board and join with Democrats voting to expand Social Security. The days of ducking and obfuscating are over. As well they should be. Social Security is too important to our economic security. It is time Congress does what prior Congresses have done and expand it.