(Official White House File Photo by Pete Souza)
Progressives are celebrating a huge win this week as President Obama announced his support for expanding Social Security as part of a larger economic agenda.
“To me, if we raise the minimum wage; if we make it easier, not harder, for people to unionize; if we negotiate trade deals that raise labor standards and environmental standards in other countries, instead of letting them sell here and we can’t sell there; if we make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure to put a bunch of folks in hardhats back to work; if we make Social Security stronger rather than cutting it — if we do those things, then we are going to see wages go up, labor markets tighten, and we will relieve a lot of the stress that people feel,” said President Obama at a town hall discussion in Elkhart, Indiana on June 2nd.
This is a complete change in direction for Obama as it was only a few years ago that he was willing to make cuts to Social Security as part of his “Grand Bargain” with Republicans.
“Progressives led, they people spoke out, and the politicians are now embracing change we can believe in: Expanding Social Security benefits — never cutting them,” said Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor, Co-Founders of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “This will be a defining issue in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and congressional candidates across the nation are for expanding benefits to keep up with the rising costs faced by our grandparents and veterans. Donald Trump and Republicans oppose increased benefits, and many support cuts.”
“I applaud President Obama for joining the growing movement in the Democratic Party to expand Social Security — for today’s seniors, workers, persons with severe disabilities, and for generations to come,” said Eric Kingson, Co-Founder of Social Security Works. “With two-thirds of today’s working persons, especially those in their late 40s and 50s, facing a personal retirement income crisis, yes, it’s time to expand benefits. With the Social Security benefits for today’s seniors averaging just $14,000, today’s older Americans need benefit increases, and they need fairer cost-of-living adjustments. With the United States being one of only three nations that do not provide paid maternity benefits at birth or adoption, it’s long past time to add up to 12 weeks paid family and sick leave to our Social Security.”
“The Alliance for Retired Americans welcomes President Obama’s statement in favor of expanding earned Social Security benefits,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “The Alliance advocated the expansion of Social Security benefits for years and we are pleased that the President agrees with us.”
“Forty percent of Americans over the age of 50 say that Social Security will be their primary source of retirement income, and the current level of benefits is not keeping pace. It’s time for Congress to pass one of the many bills that has already been introduced to make a more secure retirement for current and future retirees,” added Fiesta.
Progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren have tirelessly been taking the floor of the Senate to talk about how we need to do more to help our nation’s seniors.
“After a lifetime of work, people deserve to retire in dignity. Two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, and for 15 million seniors — 15 MILLION — Social Security is the only thing standing between them and poverty,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “I’m proud that President Obama spoke out Wednesday about protecting and expanding Social Security for millions of people who are struggling to get by.”
“For me, this is about whose side you stand on. We have a growing retirement crisis in this country. Democrats recognize that. The President supports expanding Social Security. Nearly every Senate Democrat voted for my budget amendment in support of expanding Social Security. Both Democratic Presidential candidates support expanding Social Security. And the vast majority of Americans support expanding Social Security. Republicans may still be living in the Stone Age of trying to cut benefits, but on Social Security, the American people stand with President Obama and the Democrats to take on the retirement crisis,” added Warren.
As Sen. Warren alluded to, the battle over Social Security is a defining issue in the Presidential election.
In typical Donald Trump fashion, Trump says he is going to save Social Security, and the millions of seniors who rely on it, by not doing anything.
“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is,” Trump said at a campaign event in Miami, Florida (3-10-16).
Trump also claims that Social Security is full of fraud, waste and abuse.
“Waste, fraud and abuse is massive in Social Security and Medicaid,” Trump told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. In the same interview Trump attacked Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders for wanting to increase Social Security.
The Democratic candidates strongly support expanding Social Security and the Presidents new initiative.
Secretary Clinton tweeted out her support for expanding Social Security saying, “We can never let Republicans cut or privatize Social Security — we should protect and expand it. Thanks, @POTUS.”
Before campaigning for President, Senator Bernie Sanders was one of the loudest voices in the fight to expand Social Security.
“Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation’s history. Before it was signed into law, nearly half of senior citizens lived in poverty,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “Today, the elderly poverty rate is 10 percent. Although still much too high, that’s a dramatic improvement.”
“I applaud President Obama for making it clear that it is time to expand Social Security benefits. Millions of seniors, disabled veterans and people with disabilities are falling further and further behind on $10,000 or $11,000 a year Social Security,” added Sanders.
Senators Warren and Sanders, along with Rep Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Rep Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have been asking Congress to “scrap the cap” on Social Security.
“We thank President Obama for speaking up on behalf of seniors and people with disabilities by calling for an expansion of Social Security benefits,” said Rep Keith Ellison and Rep Raul Grijalva. “So many Americans rely on these vital, earned benefits that they have secured through a lifetime of hard work. Still, too many seniors struggle to make ends meet. Expanding benefits and scrapping the payroll tax cap, which prevents the wealthy from paying their fair share, is the responsible way to ensure full Social Security solvency in the long-term while protecting today’s seniors.”
“We applaud the president for reaffirming the importance of Social Security, and we believe his statement shows just how important the progressive movement is in shaping the policies that will drive our country forward,” added Ellison and Grijalva.
It has become painfully obvious to many people that Social Security benefits have not kept up with the needs of seniors. New Hampshire Executive Councilor, and Gubernatorial candidate, Colin Van Ostern, explains how critical Social Security is to New Hampshire seniors.
“I applaud President Obama in his call to expand Social Security for hardworking Americans,” said Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. “Here in New Hampshire one in five residents collect Social Security and without this critical program, nearly half of those individuals 65 years or older would have incomes below the poverty level. After years of too many calling to cut Social Security, this is a welcomed direction. Issues like this, and access to debt-free college are the path to a stronger future where everyone has a chance to succeed, not just those at the top.”
Expanding Social Security is a direct infusion to our local economies as seniors spend the majority of their Social Security check in their communities. Even though Social Security was designed to provide assistance to seniors as they retire, many now fully depend on Social Security as their sole source of income.
As part of expanding Social Security we should continue to push for higher payouts to seniors and to eliminate the payroll tax cap. We can add additional strength to the Social Security trust fund by increasing the minimum wage. By raising the minimum wage, workers would earn more in their paycheck and pay more in to the Social Security trust fund. Ultimately raising the minimum wage would provide higher payouts to workers 30-40 years from now when they retire as Social Security payouts are based on quarterly income rates.
Expanding Social Security is the only way to ensure that more seniors do not slip into poverty and can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve after a lifetime of hard work.