Social Security: Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton

What Millennials and younger voters should know.


During the 1960's, activists such as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman (among many) seized on a quote by Jack Weinberg (UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement) “We don’t trust anyone over thirty” — and they used it as a catch phrase for an attack on the American establishment (“The Man” — the rich and the powerful) such as “the old white guys” in Congress and those in the boardrooms of multinational corporations.

But now is the time when the younger generation should trust one of those old folks — Senator Bernie Sanders — who himself was under 30 during the 1960s, and who himself may not have trusted anyone under 30 back in those days either.

But even though Sanders will be 74 years old this year, he has deeply long-held concerns that equally affects both the old and young alike. (Hillary Clinton will be 68 this year; but so far, the oldest president to assume office was Ronald Reagan — just shy of 70 years old. He was also the oldest at age 77 when he left office.)

If you’re under 30 years old today, before you think Social Security is an issue that doesn’t concern you, or think it is too far away for you to worry about today (and that it’s mostly something “old people” should worry about) the Millennials and younger generations should know that, not too long from now (if they’re lucky), they too will also be one of those old people.

I remember quite clearly being 21 years old, like it was only yesterday, although it was decades ago. I too once thought that getting old was an eternity away. But as you’re living life, the years go by a little quicker with each passing year, until one day — OMG! I’ll be old enough to retire soon!

But not to worry — you can still enjoy your youth while still planning for your “very distant” future. And those plans should include the health of the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds. And that’s why, if you’re going to vote, you should vote for the people who will strengthen this program, so that it’s around when you need it — just like it was for your parents and grandparents (Thanks to “progressives” like FDR).

The vast majority of us during our lifetime will depend on this program — and more of us are becoming increasingly more dependent on Social Security — because companies no longer offer pensions, or company pensions aren’t as generous and/or as safe and/or as reliable as they once were. And with the proliferation of low-paying and/or part-time and/or temp jobs, life-time earnings could also stagnate or decline, making Social Security monthly benefits even less than what they should be when its your time to retire.

Because the Social Security disability trust fund is projected to pay 19% less in monthly benefits to disabled workers next year, and because the old age trust fund is projected to pay only 75% of benefits to retirees by the year 2033, the current debate is two-fold: shoring up the disability trust fund with revenues from the old-age trust fund (as it’s been done 11 times before); and shoring up the old-age trust fund for retirees by raising the $118,500 income cap for Social Security payroll taxes.

According to Hillary Clinton’s past stands on Social Security, in April of 2008 she was against lifting the cap on payroll taxes because she said it would be a tax on the “middle-class”. But lifting or eliminating the cap would only increase Social Security taxes on those in the top 5% income bracket, and wouldn’t have taxed the middle-class one more penny. Hillary had no idea who the “middle-class” even was. Didn’t she know that 50% of all wage earners take home $28,000 or LESS every year? Senator Bernie Sanders knows.

But that was in 2008. Last year in August of 2014 Hillary said she might consider some sort of a payroll cap increase, but she was very wishy-washy and non-committal on the issue (and that’s probably because she didn’t want to raise taxes on billionaires). She only went as far as saying that she wouldn’t “privatize” Social Security — and that she might consider “means-testing” for reducing Social Security benefits for higher-income retirees (like herself).

From the L.A. Times:

The maximum retirement benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age [for Clinton, that was two years ago at age 66] is $2,663 a month, or $31,956 a year. These benefits are based on the career-long covered earnings of the worker or his or her spouse. They’re earned from a lifetime of work. Whatever Clinton collects, when she does collect, she will have earned … But Clinton so far hasn’t taken a position on the emerging Democratic consensus in Congress for expanding Social Security, backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others [and Senator Bernie Sanders!]. Clinton should embrace the idea. We’ve argued for this approach, including here and here … If Clinton is serious about standing up for America’s middle class, this is the right policy. It doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with whether she’s collecting a monthly check or not. It only has to do with what’s best for America’s working- and middle-class.

But unlike Hillary, Senator Bernie Sanders (and others) have taken a much more stronger stance. Bernie has introduced legislation that would make the wealthiest Americans pay the same share of their income into Social Security as other wage earners. That change would fully fund the retirement program through 2065. Under his measure, the average monthly benefit would increase by $65 a month, and cost-of-living adjustments would more accurately measure inflation for seniors — and the minimum benefit would be raised to lift millions of “old people” out of poverty — and keeping young people today out of poverty tomorrow when it’s their turn to retire. (More here)

A new study prepared by U.S. Government Accountability Office on behalf of Senator Bernie Sanders found that more than half of all American households with someone 55 or older have no retirement savings — and that four in 10 retirees are very concerned about not having enough income to get by. The GAO report found that poverty rates are higher for people approaching retirement age. Altogether, 52 percent of households with someone 55 and older have no savings. Without Social Security, 43 percent of seniors 65 and older would be thrown into poverty.

Bernie said, “This report makes it clear that there is a retirement crisis in America today. At a time when half of all older workers have no retirement savings, we need to expand, not cut, Social Security benefits so that every American can retire with dignity. Social Security is the most successful program in our nation’s history. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we have got to demand that the richest people in this country pay their fair share.”

Bernie also noted that every year, the federal government spends $68 billion on retirement savings incentives that almost all end up in the pockets of the wealthiest Americans.

The Alliance for Retired Americans released its annual report detailing the voting record of every U.S. Representative and Senator on issues important to current and future retirees. The voting record looked at ten key votes (in both the Senate and the House) and assigned a “Pro-Retiree” score for each member of Congress. In total, 49 members of the Senate and 135 members of the House received perfect scores of 100 percent. 34 Senators and 122 House members received zeros.

Of those members of the Senate who have declared their candidacy for President, Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rand Paul (R-KY) scored a big fat ZERO — while Bernie Sanders scored 100%. Senator Elizabeth Warren, like Bernie, also supports expanding Social Security. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (who’s also running for president) also endorsed the idea in an interview with The Washington Post.

As Mother Jones noted, polling last year from Lake Research Partners found that 79 percent of Americans support the idea. Another poll on Bernie’s Sanders’ website shows 95% “believe that Social Security should be expanded” and 94.3% “believe the wealthiest Americans should pay the same share of their income into Social Security as everyone else.”

So where does Hillary Clinton stand on shoring up the Social Security disability trust fund, eliminating the cap for Social Security taxes, expanding benefits for seniors, re-adjusting the COLAs, and raising the age again to qualify for Social Security? We all know EXACTLY how Bernie Sanders feels. Bring on the debates!

* TIME: Last month, the DNC said it would sanction six debates, in what rival campaigns said was an effort to protect the front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In a letter to the Democratic National Committee Chair (Debbie Wasserman Schultz), Bernie Sanders is calling on the Democratic Party to increase the number of debates that it is approving for this election season — and for them to begin in the coming weeks, rather than in the fall. (Full text of letter by Bernie)

Talking Points Memo: Clinton, of course, is unlikely to jump in with the GOP and push for calling for cuts to Social Security. The big question, again though, is whether she will embrace expanding the program, as liberal Democrats, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [and Senator Bernie Sanders!] near the vanguard who have called for. If Hillary did embrace expansion, it would be a shift from 2008 as the National Journal noted, when Clinton backed a commission looking at the solvency of the program — and also opposed a proposal by then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) that raised the payroll tax cap that funds the program. (Another commission, another hearing … with no results).

The National Journal: “One of the implied remedies, then, would be taxing some income above the current cap. Sanders’s bill would tax income above $250,000 to fund the program. Social Security’s chief actuary estimated that would prolong the program’s solvency until 2065 while the bill also increased benefits.”

From another post at Medium: What Millennials Are Looking For In Presidential Candidates (by C.C. Chapman) “Clearly say what you will do in office rather than blindly talking about issues. They want to hear as many details as possible and not empty campaign promises.”

Bernie Sanders has an actual “PLAN” — whereas most other presidential candidates have nothing at all — they just offer shallow ideas, temporary solutions and meaningless opinions. They show no real concern or commitment. But Bernie Sanders does.

And then there’s “age”. Unlike the Baby Boomers, Millennials and younger generations will have to work longer to qualify for full Social Security benefits if they vote for almost any Republican candidate (as we’re not sure about Hillary) — and these younger generations could also see cuts. Whereas with someone like Bernie Sanders, they’d have a lot less to fear when getting older — because after busting their asses for 50 or 60 years, they’ll at least have some sense of financial security (no matter how many bad career decisions they made during their life).

The current Social Security retirement age for most Baby Boomers is 66, and it will continue to rise when people born in 1959 won’t be able to retire until they are 67 years old. But when Jeb Bush was asked about raising the age for Social Security retirement (for Millennials and younger generations) he said: “We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70”.

And that’s even though it’s the rich who are mostly living longer, while average Americans are already working longer (because they can’t afford to retire). For them, raising the retirement age won’t change when they retire. They’ll simply retire early, in essence taking a forced cut in benefits. Hillary believes they postpone retirement as long as possible because most want to keep working at their back-breaking jobs for their empathetic and sympathetic bosses (sarcasm).

Jeb Bush didn’t even know what the current retirement age is, but yet he still wants to raise it. Just like Hillary Clinton (who doesn’t really know who the “middle-class” is), he too is out of touch with average American workers. GOP presidential hopefuls New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have also proposed similar increases in age.

Those in Congress (and the GOP presidential candidates) who propose raising the age for Social Security benefits (for everybody else) can be eligible for their federal pensions (which are far more generous than Social Security) at age 55 if born before 1948 and at age 57 if they were born after 1969 — while also getting Social Security (even though half the members of Congress are already millionaires and don’t even NEED a federal pension or Social Security benefits.)

This is just another symptom of how the two major political parties have lost touch with the voters, because they have become too beholden to their wealthy and corporate sponsors (unlike Bernie Sanders) and pass laws that mostly benefit themselves — like the cap on Social Security taxes, which are lower than their congressional salaries — and the tax laws that tax their capital gains less than our wages. Bernie would change that too — if he can get a “progressive” Congress to introduce the legislation. That’s why, besides just having someone like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as president (or even Obama), Millennials and younger voters also have to vote in mid-term elections and vote for progressives in Congress to get this much needed change.

Coverage of a new 2016 poll from CNN found that a majority of Americans don’t trust Hillary Clinton and don’t believe she shares their concerns (unlike Bernie Sanders). But the poll also shows most younger people admire her. In what might seem to be a counterintuitive result, the only age group with a favorable impression of Hillary Clinton is Americans 18 to 34. Among that group, 55 percent have a favorable impression of Clinton, while 38 percent have an unfavorable opinion — a 17-point positive gap. In every other age group, a majority has an unfavorable opinion of her.

Here’s Bernie on other issues — and why Millennials and younger generations should vote for candidates with more “progressives” ideas — like Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders — and not for people like Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, you’ll be voting against your own economic best interests.