How long do seniors have to wait until they hear the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on Social Security during a primary debate? Older Americans are the country’s largest voting bloc, but during the first four Democratic presidential debates, the moderators didn’t ask even one question about Social Security. This makes no sense.
The father of Social Security is one of the most revered Democratic presidents. And yet not a single mention of the program during debates by the party of Franklin Roosevelt? The 63 million citizens who currently rely on their earned benefits to remain financially healthy want to hear the candidates answer at least one debate question – and provide some real answers. The next Democratic debate on October 15th provides yet another opportunity to raise this crucial topic.
Unfortunately, some in the news media have bought into the narrative that “no one in Washington wants to talk about Social Security” because it is a politically sensitive issue. Maybe that’s one reason why they don’t ask the question during debates. This narrative holds that neither party is willing to address Social Security’s long-term future. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Democratic candidates talk quite frequently about Social Security on the campaign trail. Joe Biden told a seniors’ forum in Iowa that “we should be increasing, not decreasing, Social Security.” Bernie Sanders introduced the Social Security Expansion Act in the U.S. Senate. Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Corey Booker have all emphasized the need to boost and strengthen the program. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled her own plan to increase Social Security benefits and revenues.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress, including Representative John Larson (D-Conn.), have introduced legislation that maintains the program’s financial health for as long as most of us are likely to be alive. His Social Security 2100 Act achieves this goal mainly by insisting that the wealthy pay their fair share of Social Security payroll taxes. The bill, which has 210 cosponsors in the House, also expands benefits – and provides for a more accurate and generous cost of living adjustment formula.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans continue to push “entitlement reform,” which is code for cutting benefits. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) made headlines last month by proposing that the two parties get together “behind closed doors” to fix Social Security. We all know what that means. Some fiscal hawks have even claimed that Social Security, a self-funded program, needs to be cut to pay for the deficit-swelling Trump/GOP tax package.
Surprised and disappointed not to hear any questions about Social Security during the first round of debates on MSNBC, I sent letters to the moderators of the July debates on CNN – to no avail. Subsequent letters to the panel for the ABC News debates in August were ignored.
Voters shouldn’t have to do a Google search to see where the candidates stand on an issue that can make the difference between financial stability and outright poverty in old age. After all, the eventual nominee will face a president in the general election who won in 2016 partly by promising to “protect your Social Security,” only to propose cutting billions from Social Security Disability Insurance in his first two budgets.
Seniors want Social Security to be discussed in the sunlight – especially on the debate stage – so that the voters can assess the candidates’ proposals, and gauge their commitment to the cause. Are they just paying lip service to it, or are they serious about standing up to the “entitlement reformers” and boosting the program for current and future retirees? I have just sent a letter to the moderators of the October 15th debate, urging them to ask at least one question about Social Security. Let’s hope the fifth time will be the charm.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director at the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.