The Wisconsin Republican millionaire accused working-class Americans of "getting a lot more in return" from the key social program than rich people who pay disproportionately less into its coffers.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson came under fire Wednesday after the multimillionaire Wisconsin Republican asserted during a Senate hearing that Social Security—an economic lifeline for tens of millions of Americans who paid into the system throughout their working lives—unfairly takes from wealthier people to support lower-income retirees.
Speaking during the Senate Budget Committee hearing—entitled Protecting Social Security for All: Making the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share—Johnson said that his Wisconsin constituents "have a basic misconception about Social Security."
Johnson—one of the wealthiest U.S. senators, according to the watchdog OpenSecrets—derided Social Security, a key New Deal program, as a "nanny state" scheme enacted because the government doesn't trust Americans to save for retirement on their own.
"Most people think, 'Well, that's my money,' and, in fact, part of it is," the senator continued. "If you're in a low-income group, you're getting a lot more in return than you invested in... If you're in the high-income, you're not getting what you paid in."
Patient advocate and cancer survivor Peter Morley tweeted Wednesday that "Sen. Ron Johnson is a LIAR and it was clear from today's hearing that he is a defender of the rich and not for the people!"
Further arguing during Wednesday's hearing that Social Security was not meant to be a "general welfare system," Johnson turned to Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) executive director Amy Hanauer—who testified that "our tax system raises far too little from those with the most"—to ask what he called "a very simple question."
"Out of every $1 of income that any American makes," he queried, "how much should be the maximum amount the government takes out in total?"
"I think we should think about the kind of country we want to have," Hanauer began to reply before Johnson interrupted her to demand an answer as "a percent."
"You know, we had 400 billionaires who paid less than an 8% tax rate, so more than that," she asserted. "It strikes me that in a society where the wealthiest are getting more and more of our income, they can afford to chip in more to maintain the systems that enabled them to build that wealth in the first place."
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) followed Hanauer's response by opining that "it would make a very big difference to me in how much should be taxed on a dollar of income whether it was the first dollar of income of an individual or their billionth dollar of income."
On Tuesday, the Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary published an analysis showing how Democrats' Medicare and Social Security Fair Share Act could extend the social programs' solvency for generations by increasing taxes on incomes over $400,000.
Another bill introduced earlier this year by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Val Hoyle (D-Ore.) would boost monthly Social Security benefits by at least $200, prolonging the program's solvency for decades by lifting the cap on the maximum income subject to Social Security payroll tax.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has announced the creation of a fiscal commission tasked with finding ways to reduce the national debt, warning last month that he was "going to make some people uncomfortable" by looking at cuts to Social Security and Medicare.