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I was excited to debate South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham two weeks ago on some of the most pressing crises facing our country. The debate was sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, held at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston and broadcast on Fox News.
sen. Graham and I, with moderator Bret Baier, covered a lot of territory, but one of the key issues we discussed was the future of Social Security – one of the most popular and successful government programs in American history.
While many people take Social Security for granted these days, let’s not forget. Before Social Security was instituted in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, about half of our seniors lived in poverty. Today, although still too high, the poverty rate among the elderly is only 8.9%.
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sen. Graham was very honest about his approach to Social Security and the direction Republicans should go in. His view is that we should raise the retirement age and adopt a plan similar to what Alan Simpson (a former Republican senator from Wyoming) and Erskine Bowles (a former Democratic Wall Street investment banker) proposed nearly a decade ago.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a similar view. In 2020, he told Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis that he “hopes to work with the next Democratic president to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
Let’s be clear about the Simpson-Bowles plan, which I was vehemently against. If passed by Congress in 2013, the retirement age would have been raised to 69, reducing Social Security benefits by 13%.
Average Social Security benefits for middle-class Americans with average lifetime incomes of just $69,000 a year would have been cut by up to 35%. Further, cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for seniors who turned 85 would have been reduced by $1,000 per year by adopting a less generous formula. Meanwhile, multimillionaires, billionaires and large, profitable corporations would have seen their income tax rates fall.
25% OF AMERICANS POSTPONE RETIREMENT DUE TO INFLATION
I don’t often quote Donald Trump, but when he campaigned in 2015, he was absolutely right when he said, “Every Republican wants to do a big chunk of Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. “
Needless to say, I have a very different perspective than Senator Graham and my Republican colleagues. At a time when half of older Americans have no retirement savings and are concerned about their ability to retire with dignity and millions of seniors live in poverty, I believe it is not our job to cut Social Security. Our job should be to expand Social Security so that every senior in America can retire with the respect they deserve and every person with disabilities can live with the security they need.
According to the most recent data, 12% of seniors try to live on an income of less than $10,000 a year, while 55% try to survive on less than $25,000 a year.
NEARLY HALF OF AMERICANS DON’T EXPECT SOCIAL SECURITY TO BE THERE WHEN THEY NEED IT
Think about it. How do you pay the rent, put food on the table, and pay for basic necessities of just $10,000 or $25,000 a year? The answer is that many cannot. In the richest country in the world, that is a national disgrace.
You may be wondering: how can we expand Social Security benefits if the corporate media and some politicians keep telling us that “Social Security is going bust”? Easy. What they say is not true.
Social Security will not go bankrupt. Social Security has a $2.85 trillion surplus and can pay out any benefits owed to any eligible American for the next 13 years. After that, if no changes are made, Social Security can still pay out 80% of the promised benefits. But that’s clearly not good enough.
THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION PLAN TO EXTEND ACCESS FOR UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES
That is why I have introduced the Social Security Extension Act with seven of my colleagues in the Senate and 22 in the House of Representatives.
According to the Social Security Administration, our legislation would make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years, expand benefits for seniors and people with disabilities by $2,400 a year, and raise COLAs, lifting millions of seniors out of poverty.
How do we do that? At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when billionaires pay an effective tax rate that is lower than the average worker, this legislation requires the richest people to pay their fair share of taxes.
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Today, absurdly and incorrectly, there is a cap on income subject to Social Security taxes of just $147,000 per year. That means if you’re a multi-billionaire, you’re paying the same amount to Social Security as someone who makes $147,000 a year.
It means that if you make $147,000 a year or less, you pay 6.2% of your income in Social Security taxes. But if you make 10 times more — $1,470,000 — you’re only paying 0.62% of your income in Social Security taxes. That can make sense to someone. It makes no sense to me.
Our law applies the Social Security payroll tax to all income — including capital gains and dividends — to those earning more than $250,000 a year, the wealthiest 6.4% of Americans. According to this bill, 93.6% of households would not see their taxes increased by one cent.
I want to once again thank the Kennedy Institute and Fox News for giving Senator Graham and me the opportunity to make our views known to the public.
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As any viewer of that debate will attest, we have very different perspectives on a number of issues. Perhaps most importantly, our opposing views on Social Security.
In my opinion, it would be extremely cruel to cut Social Security benefits for seniors and people with disabilities. In fact, we can and should expand them. sen. Graham disagrees.
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