In Thursday night’s Democratic debate, CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked questions about Social Security and tried to get Hillary Clinton to say whether she would support raising the income limit subject to Social Security taxes which is now $118,500. Clinton said she did support getting more money for Social Security from wealthy persons and that raising the cap would be one way. She also mentioned taxing “passive” income.
Bernie Sanders pressed her on the issue of raising the cap which he has pushed for a long time. She said she has supported that and that she also wants to increase benefits for lower income older persons. Raising the cap has long been the focus of progressive advocates as the way to extend Social Security’s full financing for many more years.
Oh how the debate on Social Security has changed. Ten years ago, President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program That effort failed when many members of the Republican Party balked. President Obama, trying to strike a bipartisan budget deal a few years ago, proposed changing the way the cost of living adjustment (COLA) is calculated to lower the increase.
Many Republicans are still talking about raising the retirement age and some still want privatization. They have proposed those ideas as the only solutions and never mention raising the earnings cap above $118,500. Governor John Kasich wants to keep benefits the same for most people but would cut them for the wealthy. Donald Trump is to the left of the other Republicans and is the only one who says he wouldn’t cut benefits. He has shown that the party establishment has been out of touch with its own voters on this issue.
There are growing calls for improving benefits and even providing some credits for caregivers, mostly women, who were out of the workforce for child caring. What has changed? The growing focus on income inequality has shown how valuable Social Security is for older persons. If they did not have it now, many would be destitute. As pensions are no longer provided in many businesses and good paying jobs have been lost for many middle and lower income persons, Social Security has become even more important in retirement and for those who are disabled.
The change in the political environment for Social Security is another example of how change has come from the progressive advocates not from most elected officials. Much still rides though on who is elected to the White House and Congress in the fall. No matter who wins though, advocates have to aggressively push again to defend and expand Social Security. It is a winnable battle because the program has the strong support of the American people.