Senator Elizabeth Warren first candidate to mention Social Security in presidential primary debates

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “After a lifetime of hard work, people are entitled to retire with dignity.”

Major kudos to Elizabeth Warren for being the first candidate to mention Social Security on the 2020 Democratic primary debate stage.  The moderators of last night’s CNN/New York Times debate failed to ask a single question about Social Security, but Senator Warren raised the issue in response to the topic of Universal Basic Income.  

“I understand that what we’re all looking for is how we strengthen America’s middle class. And actually, I think the thing closest to the universal basic income is Social Security. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve put forward a plan to extend the solvency of Social Security by decades and add $200 to the payment of every person who receives Social Security right now and every person who receives disability insurance…”

Senator Warren unveiled her Social Security proposal last month.  It tracks pretty closely with Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act and Senator Bernie Sanders’ Social Security Expansion Act, though Sanders did not mention his own proposal in last night’s debate.

In fact, none of the other candidates took the time to follow-up on Senator Warren’s Social Security comments, nor did the moderators.  National Committee president Max Richtman had implored moderators Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, and Mark Lacey to include a question about Social Security in last night’s debate, writing letters to all three in advance.  Last week, Richtman argued in the online publication, Common Dreams:

“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.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO, 10/10/19

Democratic debate moderators did not ask a single question about Social Security

Last night’s debate moderators did not ask candidates any questions about Social Security

In his letters, Richtman suggested that the debate moderators ask a question about how the candidates would keep Social Security financially sound, with the trust fund facing insolvency in 2035. Both Warren’s and Sanders’ plans fix that problem while modestly boosting benefits, as does Rep. Larson’s.

What’s more, some Democratic candidates do address Social Security on the campaign trail.  Joe Biden told a seniors’ forum in Iowa that “we should be increasing, not decreasing, Social Security.” Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Corey Booker have all advocated boosting and strengthening the program.  But except for one mention by Senator Warren last night, viewers of the Democratic debates this primary campaign season could be forgiven for not knowing the candidates’ positions on Americans’ earned benefits.

The next Democratic debate is scheduled for November 20th in Atlanta, hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post.  Let’s hope the moderators of that debate recognize the importance of Social Security to millions of Americans and will include a question about how to safeguard the program’s future.  As Senator Warren said last night, “After a lifetime of hard work, people are entitled to retire with dignity.”  Debate viewers deserve to know how the candidates plan to uphold that promise.