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OPINION: While Democrats work to expand Social Security, Republicans want to burn it to the ground

OPINION: While Democrats work to expand Social Security, Republicans want to burn it to the ground

OPINION: While Democrats work to expand Social Security, Republicans want to burn it to the ground

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On June 9, 2022, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, held a hearing titled “Saving Social Security: Expanding Benefits and Demanding the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share or Cutting Benefits and Increasing Retirement Anxiety.” Senator Sanders clearly stated “At a time when half of Americans over the age of 55 have no retirement savings, our job is not to cut Social Security. Our job is to save and expand Social Security by making the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes.”

Based on the annual report recently released by the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, Social Security has a $2.85 trillion surplus and is solvent through 2035. However, after 2035 Senator Sanders suggested an expansion of benefits.

“If we demand that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes, we can both extend the solvency of Social Security and expand benefits,” Sanders explained.

Sound good?

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who is the Republican ranking member of the committee, disagrees. He began his testimony by calling Senator Sanders’ decision to tax the wealthiest to help subsidize the federal retirement benefits program a “fantasy.” Senator Graham veered into a personal story about how his sister had benefited from the Social Security survival benefits from their parents as a teenage girl, and how grateful he was that she had them.

However, now that he, Senator Graham, was 66, almost 67, and had received his first Social Security check, he was willing to take “less”.

“I have military retirement, Congress pension plan, if you asked me to take a little less to save Social Security…count me in…..,” Graham said.

Senator Graham has gone on record that he wants to increase the eligibility age for the benefits to 70, which would actually result in a 21% cut in benefits because people are “living longer”. However, this is not true for the United States, where our population has experienced shorter life spans. Life expectancy in the US fell from 78.9 years in 2019 to 76.6 years in 2021 – shockingly now more than five years less than the average among peer nations.

Senator Graham is not the only Republican to try to chip away and undermine the social safety net: Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) has his 11-point plan to “sunset” Social Security in 5 years and Mitt Romney (R-UT) has his “TRUST Act” which would allow slashing benefits.

But the latest attempt to undermine the federal program is a scam by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) disguised as Parental Leave. In a detailed report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), parents opting for parental leave would face permanent cuts to their Social Security retirement benefits that ultimately would far exceed their parental leave benefits.

The cuts would amount to their parental leave benefits plus decades of interest, as well as an additional reduction to cover the cost of the parental benefits provided to other parents who die or become disabled before they reach retirement and can’t repay their own leave benefits.

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The loss of Social Security benefits would be equivalent to 3-4% of lifetime retirement benefits for every three months of leave.

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No one should have to make such a sacrifice.

The reality is that 80 years after its inception, Social Security remains one of the most popular programs ever created in the United States. The nation’s senior poverty rate is 8.9% with the program providing an essential lifeline to the 1 in 7 seniors who rely on it for more than 90 percent of their income – as well as the estimated 50% of Americans, 55 years old and older, who are living without retirement savings.

In 2020 alone, during the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, Social Security lifted 22 million Americans out of poverty, including more than 16 million seniors. And instead of working to strengthen these benefits, Republicans are actively working to destroy the program. If they regain control of both chambers of Congress in 2022 and retake the presidency in 2024, this is the grim future every American who paid into the program their entire working lives will face.

This is an opinion column that solely represents the opinions of the author.

Follow Peter Morley on Twitter.

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