With every passing Democratic presidential debate, the odds that any of the moderators will ever ask a question about Social Security seem to be growing longer. Last night was the sixth debate of 2019, and the record remains unbroken: not a single question about Social Security for seven contenders for the nomination of the party of Franklin Roosevelt. However, two of the candidates – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – did mention Social Security on their own, without being asked.
Early in the debate, Senator Sanders brought up Social Security as part of an attack on President Trump’s betraying his promise “not to touch” Americans’ earned benefits.
“I will personally be… making the case that we have a president who has sold out the working families of this country, who wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid after he promised he would not do that…” – Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential debate, 12/19/19
Both Sanders and Senator Warren have offered proposals to fortify Social Security’s finances and expand benefits – mainly by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of FICA payroll contributions. During an exchange about candidate Andrew Yang’s universal basic income proposal (to give every American $1,000 per month), Warren defended the modest benefit bump in her Social Security plan:
“America is ready to expand Social Security payments and disability payments by $200 a month. You just give somebody $200 a month, they asked me this in a town hall. And a lady who wanted it said, you know what it will mean to me? It will mean I can get a prescription filled and I can still buy toilet paper the same week.” – Elizabeth Warren, Democratic presidential debate, 12/19/19
Social Security touches the lives of 69 million Americans, many of them seniors living on fixed incomes who rely on the average $1,400 monthly retirement benefit to stay out of poverty. Conservatives claim that Social Security is “going broke” and that it won’t be there for future generations. However, Social Security champions, including not only Warren and Sanders, but Rep. John Larson (D-CT) have lit up a pathway to long-term financial solvency AND expanded benefits, which voters deserve to know about.
We have pointed out many times in this space – and in other publications – that the mainstream media have failed to adequately cover these common sense, equitable solutions, relying on the false narrative that “neither party wants to take concrete action on Social Security.” To counter this narrative, the Democratic debates should include a robust discussion about seniors’ retirement benefits. A Democratic president created Social Security and it will be up to Democrats to protect the program – and allow it to grow with the needs of an ever-changing population.