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Here's a Bright Idea: Let's Expand Social Security

Photo courtesy: Iowa Democrats

In a Progressive Leaders Forum Town Hall meeting that will air Wednesday on SiriusXM 127's "The Agenda" radio show, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) joined Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, Edward Coyle of the Alliance for Retired Americans and host Ari Rabin-Havt to discuss the future of Social Security, including Harkin's proposed legislation that would expand Social Security benefits. The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (S. 567) would raise the monthly Social Security benefit by about $65 and would measure inflation not with the chained CPI (a benefit cut), but using a more accurate measure of inflation for seniors (the CPI-E). The CPI-E would increase COLAs. The bill also would eliminate the Social Security tax cap so the wealthiest people would pay the same rate the rest of us pay. Under this bill, Social Security would be able to pay out full benefits to the year 2049.

Social Security should not be part of any deficit reduction debate, says Harkin. But Republicans are injecting Social Security into those debates because they want to cut the program—even though Social Security adds nothing to the deficit.

Nothing contributes more to keeping the middle class out of poverty than Social Security, Harkin says. The real solution to strengthen Social Security funding for the long term is to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share. The future projected Social Security shortfall is very manageable, Altman says, but an enormous amount of money is being spent in an effort to privatize the program so Wall Street bankers can profit from seniors' retirement funds. 

In recent years, the importance of Social Security has become greater than ever. When Harkin first came to Congress in 1975, half of America’s workers had pensions. Now that figure is closer to 20%. Harkin said 52% of people have less than $10,000 in savings. (As reported last week, the United States faces a retirement security crisis.) That's why he wants to increase the benefits that Social Security pays out each month. The AFL-CIO also supports expanding and improving Social Security benefits. 

Coyle says Alliance members are as angry as he's ever seen them. They recognize that no amount of cutting to Social Security will affect the deficit. Altman reminded everyone that Social Security is completely self-sufficient; it currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus and it is extremely cost-effective, with administration costs amounting to less than 1% of the program's budget.

Panelists and audience members discussed ways in which Social Security has helped them personally. Coyle says his father passed away when he was seven years old and his family waited for their Social Security check each week to survive. Audience member Diane Fleming says Social Security was vital to her family after her father passed away when she was three. When Harkin's father became ill with black lung and could no longer work in the mines, his family also needed the benefits. "It was Social Security that kept our family together," Harkin says. Social Security is the country's largest children's program, Altman adds. "It's meant to protect the whole family," she says.

Panelists strongly opposed raising the retirement age and forcing people to "work until they die." They also opposed dividing people by basing benefits or treatment on income or job type. "We're all in this together," Harkin concludes.

If you think Social Security benefits should be expanded and not cut, sign the petition at StrengthenSocialSecurity.org

For more information on Social Security, go to RetiredAmericans.org.

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