Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today questioned why President Barack Obama has not defended Social Security against Republican calls for deep cuts in the program that benefits some 55 million retired and disabled Americans, widows and orphans.
"I do not believe that we should cut Social Security," Sanders said in a major Senate floor speech. "I would like to know, and I think the American people would like to know, if President Obama feels the same way. It is past time that the president told the American people in no uncertain terms that he will not cut Social Security on his watch."
Before Obama was elected in 2008, he was a strong defender of Social Security. "I agreed with him," Sanders said. "I suspect that millions of Americans voted for President Obama because of the strong stands he took in defending Social Security." Sanders introduced legislation, modeled on a 2008 Obama proposal, to lift a cap on Social Security payroll taxes so people with earnings of $250,000 and more would pay the same share of that income as all workers. The payroll tax is now assessed only on incomes up to $110,100 a year.
During the past four years, President Obama has been largely silent on Social Security. The White House even failed to rebut alarming reports last year that Obama was considering Social Security cuts as part of a "grand bargain" with Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Unlike Obama, his Republican challenger's stance on Social Security is much clearer. Mitt Romney wants to begin the process of privatizing Social Security. He wants to gradually increase the retirement age to 68 or 69. Romney also favors slowing the growth of benefits for persons with "higher incomes." Under a plan floated by Romney's allies on Capitol Hill, someone making about $45,000 a year today who retires in 2050 would receive 32 percent less in annual Social Security benefits than under the current formula. By that definition, the top 60 percent of all wage earners would be considered "higher income."
"It should come as no surprise that Republicans in Washington and Gov. Romney want to slash Social Security. The truth is Republicans have never liked Social Security and they have been attacking Social Security since its inception," Sanders said.
"The question, however, that millions of Americans are asking themselves today is where President Obama stands on Social Security. Unfortunately, he has been largely silent on this issue since he has been in the White House and during this 2012 campaign."
Social Security has not contributed to the deficit or national debt. It has a $2.7 trillion surplus and will be able to pay 100 percent of promised benefits to every eligible recipient for the next 21 years. Even with no changes, there will still be enough funding to pay more than 75 percent of promised benefits after that.
Sanders is chairman of the Defending Social Security Caucus in the Senate.