Guest editorial: Sen. Bernie Sanders: We should expand Social Security, not cut it

Editor’s note: In light of recent news that the national deficit has jumped 17 percent in the past year (most economists have attributed that to the $1.5 trillion tax cuts past by Trump and the GOP Congress), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was concerned the deficit had spiked and would be considering cuts in entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, penned a column a few weeks prior saying that the next Congress would expand Social Security, not cut it. The issue is a good contrast between the political parties.
Social Security is one of the most popular and successful government programs in the history of our country.
For more than 80 years, through good times and bad, Social Security has paid out every benefit owed to every eligible American on time and without delay. Not once over more than eight decades of operation — not even during our worst economic downturns — has anyone received a letter or phone call from the Social Security Administration saying: “Sorry, we’re going to have to cut your benefits.” At a time of massive economic instability, this is a record that should make every American very proud.
While many people take Social Security for granted, it’s important to recognize that without Social Security the senior poverty rate in Vermont would be over 42 percent. But, because Social Security has lifted 30,000 seniors in our state out of poverty, it’s just 5.9 percent.
And let’s be clear. Social Security is not just a retirement program that provides benefits to nearly 100,000 seniors in Vermont. It is an insurance program that offers financial assistance to more than 22,000 Vermonters with disabilities and over 9,600 children.
Yet, despite all of this success, seniors in Vermont and all over America still struggle to make ends meet and many older workers are frightened that they will never be able to retire with any sense of dignity.
According to the most recent data, one out of every five senior citizens in America is trying to live on an income of less than $13,500 a year. Think about that for a moment. How does one survive economically if you only have $13,500 a year to buy the medicine you need, heat your home, pay the rent, put food on the table and pay for other basic necessities?
Adding insult to injury, about half of older Americans — those who are 55 and older — have no retirement savings, while the average Social Security benefit is less than $1,300 a month.
Given this painful reality our job is not to cut Social Security, as many of my Republican colleagues in Congress want to do. Our job is to expand Social Security so that everyone in America can retire with the respect that they have earned and deserve after a lifetime of hard work.
That is why I worked together with Representatives John Larson (D-CT) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to form the Expand Social Security Caucus. In just a few short weeks, 19 Senators and 140 House members have joined up making it one of the largest caucuses on Capitol Hill.
While most members of the Democratic caucus are on record in support of expanding Social Security, the Republicans have taken a much different approach. After the passage of Trump’s $1 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthy and large corporations, which greatly increases the federal deficit, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”
In case you don’t know what Republicans mean when they talk about “entitlement reform,” let me translate it for you. It means massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
On top of all of that, the latest whopper from Donald Trump, our pathological lying president, is that Democrats want to “destroy your Social Security” and “want to steal trillions of dollars from Medicare.”
That’s funny. This is the same president who proposed a budget that would have cut, over a 10-year period, $72 billion from the Social Security Disability Fund, $500 billion from Medicare and over $1 trillion from Medicaid.
If Trump were serious about saving Social Security, which he is not, he would support the first bill I introduced this Congress. This legislation would expand Social Security benefits and extend its solvency for the next 60 years by requiring the wealthiest American households — those who make over $250,000 a year — to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes.
Today, because of the earnings cap on Social Security taxes, a CEO making $20 million a year pays the same amount of money into Social Security as someone who makes $128,400 a year. That is absurd. At a time of massive income inequality, we need to lift this cap.
Under this bill, 98.4 percent of American workers would not see their taxes go up by a nickel while Social Security benefits would go up by about $1,300 a year for low-income seniors. Importantly, this bill would increase Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) by more accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors. Older Americans, by and large, are not going out on spending sprees buying big screen TVs, laptops, or the latest high-tech gadgets. Rather, they spend a disproportionate amount of their income on health care and prescription drugs and that should be reflected in the formula for calculating COLAs.
The vast majority of Vermonters understand that a moral society does not give tax breaks to billionaires, and then cut back on the needs of struggling seniors or people with disabilities. In fact, 72 percent of Americans “support increasing, not cutting Social Security benefits by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay more into the system.”
Our job now is to rally the American people to get our priorities right. At the top of that list is making sure that everyone in Vermont and throughout this country can retire with the dignity they have earned and all those struggling with a disability can live with the security they need.

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