Published 1:18 PM EDT Sep 23, 2018
For too long, Congress and the media have ignored the pressing concerns of seniors in our country. At a time when millions of elderly Americans are struggling economically, unable to pay for medicine, food and other basic necessities, a serious discussion about senior needs is long overdue. And, at the top of the list for a sensible and humane senior agenda is the need to make clear that we are going to expand and strengthen Social Security, not cut it.
Social Security gives millions of Americans dignity. For more than 80 years, it has paid out every benefit on time and without delay. At a time of great economic anxiety, that is a record we should all be proud of. And we should all stand against politicians who favor shrinking it.
In 2016, Social Security lifted 22 million Americans out of poverty, including more than 15 million seniors. Before it was created in 1935, about half of our nation’s seniors were living in poverty. Today their poverty rate is just 8.8 percent.
Social Security lifts Americans out of poverty
Yet, despite this success, tens of millions of seniors are still struggling to get by and many older workers fear that they will never be able to retire with security and dignity.
Today, one out of every five seniors are trying to survive on an income of less than $13,500 a year. How do you pay for necessities like heat, rent and food if you only have $13,500 a year? We have got to do a lot better.
And to make matters worse, about half of Americans 55 and older have zero retirement savings. Meanwhile, the average Social Security benefit is less than $1,300 a month.
We need to expand, not cut, Social Security so that everyone can retire with dignity. Further, we have to extend the solvency of Social Security far beyond its current 16 years.
More: Trump erodes Social Security and Medicare solvency while blaming Democrats
Cuts in Social Security and Medicare are inevitable. Delaying reform will make it worse.
Social Security & Medicare are slowly dying, but no one in Washington will lift a finger
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and I, along with Democratic Reps. John Larson of Connecticut and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, have formed the Expand Social Security Caucus to do exactly that. Nineteen senators and 140 House members have already added their names, making it one of the largest caucuses in Congress.
But our pathological lying President Donald Trump now claims that Democrats "are going to hurt your Social Security so badly, and they are killing you on Medicare."
Really? That's funny. It was Trump who proposed a budget this year that our Democratic Budget Committee analysis shows would cut $72 billion from Social Security, $500 billion from Medicare and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid over a 10-year period.
And his party is all in. Following the passage of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy and large corporations, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said: "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”
What does "entitlement reform" mean for you? Huge cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Trump is the one stealing from Social Security
If Trump actually cared about saving Social Security, he would support my bill to expand Social Security benefits and extend its solvency for the next 60 years by requiring the wealthiest Americans — those making over $250,000 a year — to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes.
As a result of the earnings cap on Social Security taxes, a corporate executive making $30 million a year contributes the same amount into Social Security as someone who makes $128,400 (the maximum amount of income subject to the tax in 2018). That is ridiculous. We need to lift this cap.
If my bill were to pass, Social Security benefits would go up by about $1,300 a year a year for low-income seniors, while 98.4 percent of American workers would not see their taxes go up by a nickel. And, we would increase Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) by more precisely measuring seniors’ spending patterns.
A moral society does not give tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations, and then cut back support for struggling seniors or people with disabilities.Our job now is to rally the public to ensure that everyone in America can retire with dignity and everyone with a disability can live with security.
Bernie Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders