The Social Security Question Hillary Clinton Should Have Been Asked

Isaiah J. Poole

At the CNN town hall for the Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders pointed out that he has with Hillary Clinton “a disagreement on a very important issue that impacts everybody, but especially women”: “I believe that we should expand Social Security benefits by lifting the cap on taxable income.”

He went on to suggest to moderator Chris Cuomo: “Ask Hillary Clinton if she’s prepared to lift the cap on taxable income.”

Cuomo didn’t take Sanders up on his suggestion to ask Clinton that question when it was her turn to be interviewed at the forum. However, Clinton appeared to be nudging closer to Sanders’ position at an Iowa campaign event Tuesday when she, according to the New York Times, told a citizen that “lifting the cap” is one of “a couple of potential ways” to bolster the Social Security trust fund.

A campaign spokesperson when asked for elaboration pointed a Times reporter to the Clinton campaign’s website. The campaign language says that Clinton would as president “expand Social Security for those who need it most and who are treated unfairly by the current system,” particularly women. The statement proposes “asking the wealthiest to contribute more,” such as by taxing “some” wages above the cap – currently $118,500 – and by taxing income not currently subject to Social Security taxes.

While this debate plays out on the campaign trail, 20 major progressive organizations – including Campaign for America’s Future – joined Social Security Works in a petition campaign calling on the U.S. Congress “to pass legislation that expands Social Security benefits and ensure a more secure retirement for all, not just the wealthy few.”

The petition notes that the shift from traditional pension plans to 401(k)s, which are more vulnerable to the volatility of the stock market, have left American seniors financially weaker and more insure than their counterparts in other developed countries. (Plus, 45 percent of Americans over age 25 don’t have any retirements savings plan at all.) One consequence is that a higher percentage of Americans over the age of 65 remain in the workforce than in any other developed country. That is because the combination of Social Security and 401(k)s replace a lower share of pre-retirement income in the United States than do retirement systems elsewhere in the developed world.

To conservatives, that’s a feature, not a bug, and with the exception of Donald Trump, the major Republican presidential candidates are behind plans that would keep future retirees in the workforce longer. And with the life expectancy gap widening between rich Americans and everyone else, raising the retirement age is an especially cruel and unfair benefit cut.

Sanders and Democratic presidential challenger Martin O’Malley are agreed that we need to expand Social Security benefits – full stop. Clinton’s position is more nuanced. It is in stark opposition to where Republicans (and some members of the Democratic establishment) are. But the call remains for all of the Democratic presidential candidates to say with one voice “expand Social Security.”

To support that call for the Congress to pass legislation to expand Social Security for all retirees, sign this petition.

Get updates in your inbox