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Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on January 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Social Security Not Going Broke': Sanders Says Program Can and Should Be Expanded

While the GOP repeat the false and intentionally misleading claim of insolvency, Sanders says the popular program can be expanded simply by making the rich "pay their fair share."

Julia Conley

Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Friday a Senate hearing next week focused on expanding Social Security as he and other defenders countered false and repeated Republican claims that popular program is headed toward insolvency. 

While a report released Thursday by the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds showed that Social Security has a surplus of $2.85 trillion, the independent senator from Vermont said benefits should be increased for retirees—an expansion that could easily be paid for with by raising the cap on payments into SSI by wealthy Americans who contribute at a disproportionately low rate compared to most.

"Democrats are united in support of expanding Social Security. In contrast, Republicans want to reach into our pockets and steal our money."

"Our job is to save and expand Social Security by making the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes," said Sanders. "In the richest country in the history of the world, no senior should live in poverty and every American should be able to retire in dignity after a lifetime of hard work. This is not a radical idea."

An estimated 50% of Americans aged 55 and older are living without retirement savings, the Senate Budget Committee reported—a crisis stemming from stagnant wages, a widening gap between CEO and worker pay, and rising costs of living.

"We don't have a Social Security crisis, but we do have a retirement income crisis," said Social Security Works (SSW) in response to the Board of Trustees report. "With prices rising, seniors and people with disabilities are struggling to afford food and medicine. The solution is to expand Social Security."

Alex Lawson and Nancy Altman, executive director and president of SSW, respectively, are among the witnesses scheduled to testify at the Budget Committee hearing next Thursday.

The organization has for years countered Republican propaganda that tries to claim Social Security is unaffordable or that its benefits are too generous. Progressive advocates like SSW, Sanders, and other allies have also defended against repeated right-wing efforts to privative the safety-net program.

Earlier this year, a memo written by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) included a proposal for Congress to reauthorize Social Security and other anti-poverty programs every five years, a move Sanders said at the time would impose "massive cuts" to much-needed benefits.

According to the Board of Trustees report, Social Security is currently fully funded until 2035 and—even without Congressional action to expand the program—would be able to pay 90% of benefits for the next 25 years.

Eighty-four percent of benefits and administrative costs are fully funded for the next half-century and 80% are funded for the next three-quarters of a century.

"Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Social Security is not going broke," said statement from Sanders' office as it announced the hearing planned for June 9.

The appropriate answer to any projected shortfall, said SSW, is to "make the wealthy pay their fair share!"

"Protecting and expanding benefits is a question of values, not affordability," said Lawson. "That this year's projections are even stronger than last year's proves once again that Social Security is built to withstand times of crisis, including pandemics."

"Democrats are united in support of expanding Social Security," he added. "In contrast, Republicans want to reach into our pockets and steal our money."

Sanders has repeatedly introduced legislation to expand the program and more than 200 lawmakers have co-sponsored legislation in the U.S. House to increase benefits, improve the formula used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments due to inflation, and set the minimum benefit at 25% above the poverty line to protect senior citizens from retiring into poverty.

SSW on Friday called for "up or down votes on Social Security" in the House and Senate.

"Beneficiaries can be assured" that even without Congressional action, Social Security benefits are not in danger of running out, said Paul N. Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"Nonetheless," he added, "acting sooner rather than later to improve the programs' ability to provide the full benefits upon which beneficiaries rely would cool overheated rhetoric and bolster public confidence."


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