For much of the political world, there are effectively three competing ideas for the future of Social Security. First, there are Republicans who would like to privatize the program out of existence, but will settle for benefit cuts. Second, there are Democrats who insist Social Security should be left alone. And third, there are other Democrats who would tolerate some cuts, but only in exchange for concessions from Republicans.
Recently, however, a fourth idea has started to gain traction: why not increase Social Security benefits?
Greg Sargent flagged a speech from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday, in which she not only criticized the “chained CPI” measure Republicans demand and the White House would consider, but pushed for expanding benefits beyond the status quo. For those who can’t watch the above clip online:
“Over the past generation, working families have been hacked at, chipped, and hammered. If we want a real middle class – a middle class that continues to serve as the backbone of our country – then we must take the retirement crisis seriously. Seniors have worked their entire lives and have paid into the system, but right now, more people than ever are on the edge of financial disaster once they retire – and the numbers continue to get worse.“That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits – not cutting them…. Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day.”
Warren isn’t alone on this. I believe Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) got the ball rolling on this several months ago, but since then, Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) joined them. A companion measure in the House has 40 Democratic sponsors.
Any objective legislative assessment would suggest this isn’t going to pass anytime soon – Senate Republicans would no doubt filibuster the idea and the House Republican majority wouldn’t consider it. But part of the push is about changing the nature of the conversation. If the Beltway assumes Social Security cuts are sensible, and the debate is limited to those who want to preserve the status quo vs. those who want to undermine it, making the substantive case for expanding Social Security helps broaden the discussion in progressive ways.
Don’t be too surprised if this starts to come up more in advance of the 2014 midterms – and beyond – as the Democratic base starts to look at Social Security as a winner on policy and political grounds.