Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary win for Sen. Brian Schatz sends an important signal to candidates nationwide about the huge role Social Security can and will play in their Congressional re-election bids.  From the chained CPI to the Bowles-Simpson amendment, many centrist “new Democrats” like Hawaii’s Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, have quietly cast votes for proposals designed to cut benefits to millions of retirees, people with disabilities and their families, while at the same time promising to protect benefits back home.

In Rep. Hanabusa’s case, there were clear differences between her and opponent Sen. Brian Schatz on Social Security.  While Schatz supports boosting benefits and co-sponsors legislation to do that, Rep. Hanabusa voted in support of the Bowles-Simpson amendment to HR 444 which advocated for Social Security benefits cuts, raising the retirement age and deficit reduction through 75% in cuts an only 25% in revenue. The Bowles-Simpson plan would be disastrous for America’s families, which is why NCPSSM provided a rare primary endorsement to Senator Schatz:

“You understand, too, that Social Security benefits are earned and that this most successful social insurance program ever should not—must not!—be undermined as some have proposed by cutting benefits.  You appreciate that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the nation’s debt and proposals to raise the retirement age and reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment in the name of bipartisanship would be disastrous to Americans of all ages.  You have underscored your commitment to Social Security by joining with Senate colleagues supporting the “Strengthening Social Security Act” and opposing the oft-cited “chained Consumer Price Index.” NCPSSM Endorsement Letter to Sen. Bryan Schatz, May 27, 2014

Senator Schatz isn’t the only candidate who understands just how disconnected Washington has become from the majority of Americans who -- across all ages and political parties -- oppose cutting Social Security.

Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Expanding Social Security would have to be paid for by lifting or changing the cap or some other means, which could leave Dems vulnerable to charges they are raising taxes. But Brown brushed off that worry. “Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned,” Brown said. “Most of us should be willing to make that argument.”  Washington Post, May 2014

Until now, too many in Congress have not been willing to make that argument and refocus its attention on the retirement deficit facing millions of working Americans.  Hopefully, the Hawaii experience will change all that.