Title: Congressman John Larson: Expanding & Strengthening Social Security
Guest: Representative John Larson (D-CT)
Release Date:  2/22/24


Announcer:  It’s You Earned This, the Social Security and Medicare podcast, brought to you by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and now your host, Walter Gottlieb. 

Walter Gottlieb: Good afternoon, Congressman Larson.

Rep. Larson: Good afternoon, Walter.

Walter Gottlieb: Thank you so much for joining us – I know this is a busy time for you, so I really appreciate it. I wanted to ask you: first of all – when and how did you become so passionately involved in the issue of social security? Had you had any personal or family experience with it before coming to Congress or was it a passion you developed once you got to Capitol Hill?

Rep. Larson: Well, of course, I had always heard my parents talk about Social Security and certainly being one of eight children, you know it was vitally important. But to the point of your question – no, it was something I developed when I got here and then was on the Ways and Means Committee. (Rep.) Bob Matsui, at the time, was the ranking Democrat, and I could see his passion, and what stuck in my craw… well, back then it was 30+ years since we had done anything with Social Security to enhance it. And, as we all know, a lot has happened since 1971 – not the least of which are inflation and costs, etc. – but not to change, not to focus on the nation’s number one anti-poverty program for the elderly and the number one anti-poverty program for children that provides a disability benefit that more veterans rely on than the VA, and not to also forget spousal and dependent coverage.

Walter Gottlieb: You often quote Reverend Martin Luther King’s line about the “fierce urgency of now.” He was talking about the urgency of passing civil rights legislation in the 60s, but you are talking about expanding and strengthening social security at last, right?

Rep. Larson: That’s right. And John Lewis and I worked together on this, and put it together, and John Lewis said it more eloquently than I could ever do. He said: “Social Security is a civil rights issue.” And, when you look at the people that are impacted, when you look at the wealth disparity that exists, when you understand that there are 5 million Americans who get a below-poverty-level check from Social Security, this just simply isn’t fair and needs to be addressed.

Walter Gottlieb: What is the status of your Social Security 2100 Act, which would do so much to boost benefits and strengthen the program’s finances?

Rep. Larson: Well, the status is that it’s in the Ways and Means Committee, but we’ve been denied a hearing by the Republicans. We keep asking for one. And it’s very simple. I say, “Listen, if you’ve got a better idea, well by all means, put it out there.” So not in our committee, but in the Budget Committee, they brought up this fiscal commission, and I hope Americans are listening close to this, because on its face, when you say we’re going to have a fiscal commission because we’re concerned about the debt and deficit – fine, I mean that’s important, the debt and the deficit. It should be known at the outset, though, that Social Security does not create any national debt. It is fully paid for and it’s an earned benefit – it’s not an entitlement.

Walter Gottlieb: You held an event on Capitol Hill with labor leaders to rally support, or I would say, to rally opposition to the fiscal commission proposal by the House Republicans. Now, labor union members sometimes have pensions, but they still turned out all these labor leaders to oppose this fiscal commission. Why?

Rep. Larson: Well, you know it was John F. Kennedy who said that the AFL-CIO is the people’s lobby because they understand how Social Security impacts all of their members. And even though they have pensions, Social Security is the floor. Social Security is the basis for everyone’s retirement and for 40% of all Americans, it’s the only thing they have.

Walter Gottlieb: Right.

Rep. Larson: Labor unions have been very successful at negotiating pensions, but they know that those families all still count on Social Security.

Walter Gottlieb: You have offered the Social Security 2100 Act which would expand and strengthen Social Security, but on the other side of the aisle we have Republicans, including candidates for President, talking about cutting and privatizing Social Security as if that’s the only way to fix it. They propose raising the retirement age, means testing, and a more miserly COLA formula. How do we hold them accountable for those proposals even as some of them say, “Oh, I support Social Security,” – how do the voters know?

Rep. Larson: Well, see, this is the game that the Republicans have played. They profess their love for Social Security; they profess their support for Social Security. Then they throw out ideas that they have – and say things like, “Well, people are living longer, so we should raise the age.” And as you know, what that would do is actually be a benefit cut. But their own Study Committee has called for 21% across-the-board cuts to Social Security. The only way the public will know is to have a vote. Put your plan out there. Put the two plans out, side by each – and let’s have a vote on that. Wouldn’t that be an astounding thing for Members of Congress to do, to actually vote on a piece of legislation? And the public has got to demand that they do so, because otherwise they’ll end up always trying to do a secret committee. Now, this commission that we rallied against, as you know, they go behind closed doors. They don’t have hearings out in the public to discuss it, they say: “Oh no, we’re having public hearings” – they’re having listening sessions, they’re not having a hearing on the specific changes – in fact, they go behind closed doors and nobody knows what they’re actually voting on until they come up with a final vote. And in a body of 535 members, 100 in the senate, 435 in the House – 7 people will determine the outcome of Social Security and Medicare? And all with the notion that they’re doing this to deal with the deficit, while as we said at the outset of this program – Social Security is fully paid for. It does not have a deficit; it has a Trust Fund – but Congress hasn’t addressed the Trust Fund. And there’s only two ways you can do that: you either add the revenue that’s needed, or you cut benefits. And they choose to go behind closed doors because they want to cut benefits.

Walter Gottlieb: Why is Nikki Haley’s argument that we have to cut Social Security for our children and grandchildren by raising the retirement age so faulty, so spurious? She’s out there banging the drum all the time for that.

Rep. Larson: Yeah and isn’t it ironic how politics makes for strange bedfellows. Donald Trump is running ads against her for doing that.

Walter Gottlieb: Right. Right.

Rep. Larson: And here’s why it’s so bad: because for every year you raise the age, that’s a 7% cut in benefits. And the logic they try to apply is – “Well, since people are living longer, we should raise the age.” That sounds like it might make sense until you realize that for every year you raise the age – that’s a 7% cut in benefits. So, to go to age 70 as the Republican Study committee has called for, and that’s what she’s following, their suggestion would be to cut benefits by 21%. Thankfully, President Biden has said that Social Security is a sacred trust. He has come out strongly and said that not only is he going to extend the solvency but recognizes that we have to extend the benefits. He’s called for the repeal of WEP and GPO. He’s supported this, but he’s also been very firm – unlike the other side – he’s said it’s got to be paid for. But here’s how I’m going to pay for it – we’re going to lift the cap on people making over $400,000. Every town hall that I have, every meeting that I go to, including the one with labor, I say, “Raise your hand if you’re making more than $400,000.”

Walter Gottlieb: Right.

Rep. Larson: So that’s about 1% of the American people that are making over $400,000. And many of them, Walter, all say the same thing: “I’m glad to pay my fair share of what I owe. I’m an American. It’s the right thing to do for all of our people.”

Walter Gottlieb: The Patriotic Millionaires group celebrates with us, or bemoans with us, that time of the year, which is coming up soon, when millionaires stop paying into Social Security because they don’t think it’s fair that millionaires stop paying when the rest of us pay all year.

Rep. Larson: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet start paying into Social Security in January.

Walter Gottlieb: And stop two days later.

Rep. Larson: Yeah, exactly. As you said, the Patriotic Millionaires – they all recognize this, that the right thing to do is to lift this cap and have people who have enormous wealth, just pay their fair share. It will allow us to extend Social Security out by more than 30 years and also enhance benefits…

Walter Gottlieb: We have supported your Social Security 2100 Act from the very beginning, and we want to see it taken up by the full House. And we really thank you, Congressman Larson, for your leadership on this issue, sincerely, on behalf of all our members and supporters.