Of all the Democrats contending for the presidential nomination, Michael Bloomberg is the worst choice to debate Donald Trump on an overwhelmingly important issue: Social Security’s future. Bloomberg’s position on Social Security is to the right of Trump’s stated position — and widely out of step with even Republican voters, let alone Democrats.
Bloomberg has a long history of supporting cuts to Social Security, including raising the retirement age. He’s disparaged Social Security, one of the most popular and successful government programs in history, by comparing it to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Bowles-Simpson austerity commission, which tried to jam through huge Social Security cuts behind closed doors.
"A close read reveals that Bloomberg hasn't changed his views. He's just gotten smarter about hiding them."
Now, Bloomberg is running to be the Democratic nominee for President — even though he was a Republican for years, and only became a Democrat in 2018. For months, Bloomberg was the only major candidate without a Social Security plan. Now, he’s finally released one.
Bloomberg’s Social Security plan is very carefully worded. Unlike Bloomberg’s past statements, the plan does not overtly endorse Social Security cuts. That’s no surprise, since cutting Social Security is incredibly unpopular with voters across the political spectrum. But a close read reveals that Bloomberg hasn’t changed his views. He’s just gotten smarter about hiding them.
The plan says that Bloomberg would “consider options for preserving and strengthening Social Security’s long-term finances, while maintaining and enhancing benefits for the neediest recipients.” Bloomberg does not specify what these “options” are. But what he doesn’t say speaks volumes.
Politicians that want to cut Social Security but don’t want to be held accountable at the ballot box think they can sound reasonable, while hiding their true views, by arguing that all options should be on the table. This is a cynical way of avoiding taking a public position. Moreover, it is a conservative dream to maintain benefits for the poorest Americans while slashing them for the middle class, transforming Social Security so that it’s no longer earned insurance. Social Security’s earned nature is what makes it so effective and politically strong.
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When their public positions are popular, politicians have no trouble articulating them. No politician hides support for cutting middle class taxes. Similarly, every other Democratic candidate has said unequivocally that they support expanding Social Security, and oppose cutting it. They all support restoring Social Security to long range balance by requiring those at the top to pay their fair share.
"His promises to 'strengthen' and 'preserve' Social Security are meaningless. Those words are frequently used by billionaire elites like Bloomberg as code for 'cut Social Security to save it.'"
Even Donald Trump has said as recently as the State of the Union that he won’t cut Social Security. This, of course, is a lie, since a week later he released a budget that does cut it. But, he is certain to keep lying in the lead up to the election.
It wouldn’t have been difficult for Bloomberg to release a plan that unequivocally rules out cuts. Bernie Sanders’ plan does, as does Elizabeth Warren’s. Pete Buttigieg’s plan says that he would “fully protect Social Security for the next generation without cutting anyone’s benefits by ensuring the most fortunate pay their fair share.” Joe Biden’s plan says that he would “put the program on a path to long-term solvency by asking Americans with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay.”
Neither Biden nor Buttigieg should be fully trusted on Social Security. Like Bloomberg, Biden has a record of supporting cuts. Buttigieg recently made the error of embracing austerity economics. That said, both Biden and Buttigieg make it clear on their websites that they are running on protecting and expanding, never cutting, Social Security.
For those who have followed the Social Security debate closely, Bloomberg’s words about “options” are a clear signal. His language is insider speak, a wink and a nod to the donor class that he, like them, favors cutting Social Security. His promises to “strengthen” and “preserve” Social Security are meaningless. Those words are frequently used by billionaire elites like Bloomberg as code for “cut Social Security to save it.” Nor does Bloomberg’s support of targeted Social Security increases inspire confidence. Bowles-Simpson also included targeted benefit increases, alongside huge cuts to overall benefits. So did Paul Ryan’s plans.
To get right on Social Security, Bloomberg must repudiate his past support for cuts. He must pledge that he will never support cutting a single penny of current or future benefits. Unless that happens, supporters of Social Security should consider him an enemy of the program — and vote accordingly in the Democratic primary.