Democratic Platform Pledges Expansion Social Security But Rejects Lifting Earnings Cap and New COLA

Democrats on the party’s platform committee have agreed to expand Social Security but the committee controlled by Hillary Clinton backers rejected two amendments proposed by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders.  One of those amendments would have helped pay for the expansion by lifting the earnings cap subject to Social Security taxes, a position long supported by progressives.  That cap is currently at $118,500.  Earners making more than that pay no Social Security taxes on incomes above that level, though they still have to pay the Medicare tax where the cap is already lifted.  The other  rejected amendment would have revised the formula for calculating the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) to better reflect the cost of living for older Americans’ health care costs.  The COLA has yielded no increase in benefits this year and in other recent years has been either zero or minimal.

During the campaign, expanded benefits were discussed by both Clinton and Sanders t0 primarily to benefit lower income retirees.  The benefits formula would be altered so that lower income retirees would get more money.  The platform apparently does not detail how the program would be expanded  though and how that would be paid for, either with more revenues or re-adjusting the formula to lower benefits for higher income retirees.

Despite the defeat of the two amendments, the commitment to expand Social Security is a remarkable reversal from the defensive position that has dominated Democratic politics in the last two decades as Republicans have tried to privatize the program or discuss raising the eligibility age to 70.”  This is smart politics, and if the Republicans are smart, they’ll have it in their platform, too,” said Eric Kingson, a Social Security expert who ran a strong but unsuccessful primary bid for Congress in central New York and was endorsed by Sanders.

The Republicans are finishing their platform this week before their convention begins next Monday.  There have been no details in the media about how they are handling Social Security.  Donald Trump said during the campaign that he did not support cutting Social Security.  However, some media reports recently suggested he may have been more supportive of cuts when he met with House Speaker Paul Ryan.  Ryan has proposed major changes in Social Security and Medicare for future retirees.  He has proposed providing Medicare vouchers to purchase private insurance instead of the current guaranteed coverage with benefits and the program run by the government with private Medicare Advantage plans as an option for beneficiaries.

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I have been a senior advocate for most of my career. I was Executive Director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans. In 2007-2010 I was the Director of the New York State Office for the Aging

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