Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden debate past positions on Social Security, instead of focusing on Donald Trump

For the first time in 11 debates, Social Security was a prominent topic during last night’s face-off between the Democratic presidential candidates.  Unfortunately, the discussion focused on Joe Biden’s and Bernie Sanders’ past positions rather than the very real threat that the Trump administration poses to the program.

As usual, the moderators didn’t raise the topic of Social Security.  But about halfway through the debate, Biden did:

“My Lord, Bernie, you’re running ads saying I’m opposed to Social Security.” – Joe Biden, 3/15/20

That began a lengthy exchange between the candidates, with Sanders attacking Biden’s record on Social Security – and the former Vice President defending it.

Sanders: Let me ask you a question, Joe… Have you been on the floor of the Senate… talking about the necessity [of] cutting Social Security…?

Biden: No.

Sanders: You never said that?

Biden: No.

Sanders: Alright, America… go to the YouTube right now.

The Sanders campaign has been running an ad claiming that “Biden has advocated cutting Social Security for 40 years.”  But Politifact says Sanders’ broad claim does not stand up to scrutiny.  Throughout his political career, Biden has advocated for expanding Social Security – indeed, it is part of his 2020 platform – with some exceptions over the years.

“In roughly 10-year hops, starting in the 1970s, he went from calling for a 7% increase, then for a one-year freeze, then floated raising the retirement age, then backed a change in how benefits would increase, and has ended up today calling for higher benefits.” – Politifact, 3/11/20

Biden re-iterated that he wants to boost Social Security benefits – and urged that the Democratic candidates focus on the future, instead of litigating the past.  He pointed out that President Trump is the one who poses the true threat to Americans’ earned benefits.  Yet almost all of the discussion in last night’s debate centered on the two Democrats’ past positions rather than clear indications from the Trump administration that it is targeting “entitlements” for future cuts.

*In January, responding to a CNBC interviewer, the president said that he would “look at” cutting Medicare and Social Security because it’s “actually the easiest of all things, because it’s such a big percentage (of the debt).”

*During a town hall on Fox News on March 5th,  a moderator asked the president whether he would cut ‘entitlements’ to reduce the soaring debt.  Trump replied, “Oh, we’ll be cutting.”

*The President and his advisors are pushing a Social Security payroll tax cut to stimulate the economy.  Cutting payroll taxes would choke the flow of much-needed revenue into the Social Security program, endangering benefits, while giving working people little more than pocket change.

Fiscal hawks in the administration and on Capitol Hill have been in President Trump’s ear since 2017, insisting that Social Security be “reformed” in order to help pay for the reckless Trump/GOP tax cuts.  Last August, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) told the New York Times, “We’ve brought it up with President Trump, who has talked about it being a second-term project.”

The President’s 2021 budget cuts Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) by some $90 billion over ten years, and underfunds the Social Security Administration as it struggles to service the 10,000 Baby Boomers who turn 65 every day.

Meanwhile, the President propagates the falsehood that he will “protect” Social Security, claiming that the Democrats will “destroy it.”  Social Security was created by Democrats.  The party has protected Social Security from conservative assault for nearly 85 years.  Both of the remaining Democratic presidents would expand – not cut – the program. Squabbling between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders about the past only serves to distract voters from what President Trump will do to seniors’ earned benefits if he wins a second term.

What National Committee president Max Richtman wrote in The Hill newspaper in January still holds true:

“Today, the Democratic party is nearly unified behind the cause of boosting benefits and strengthening the program’s finances for the long-term future. That’s why it makes little sense for the Democratic presidential candidates to attack each other on Social Security policy. Their focus needs to be on the here and now.”