Release: Congress Steps Up to Protect Social Security

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 - With a White House budget panel contemplating Social Security cuts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a Senate resolution to protect seniors and safeguard the program's surplus funds for future retirees.

The measure filed yesterday with 11 Senate cosponsors would put the White House commission on notice that raising the retirement age, privatizing the program, or cutting benefits would meet stiff opposition on Capitol Hill. The resolution called the worker-supported Social Security system, which has run surpluses for a quarter century, "America's most successful and reliable retirement program."

"Let's be clear," Sanders and others said in a letter to Senate colleagues. Social Security is not in crisis." The Social Security Trust Fund has a $2.6 trillion surplus that is projected to grow to more than $4 trillion by the year 2023, the senators noted. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits to every recipient until the year 2039. Even then at least 75 percent of promised benefits would be available if no steps are taken to strengthen Social Security. "It will not be bankrupt," the senators said.

In the House, more than 100 members have signed a letter urging President Obama to reject any proposals to cut Social Security benefits. "If any of the commission's recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them," warned Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and others.

Facing a Dec. 1 deadline, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will issue recommendations on ways to reduce the federal deficit and achieve long-term fiscal stability if 14 out of its 18 members can come to an agreement. Changes in Social Security benefits may be among the recommendations. 

Raising the eligibility age for a full Social Security benefit would amount to a substantial benefit cut. According to the Social Security Administration, each year the retirement age is increased is tantamount to a 7 percent reduction in benefits. The minimum age to retire with full benefits already is schedule to go from 65 to 67 in 2022. Increasing the retirement age even more would place additional hardships on workers, especially those in physically-demanding jobs.

Privatizing Social Security would deny workers the guaranteed benefits and security that the 75-year-old system was designed to provide. With market gyrations eroding many investors' life savings during the recession, the senators said Social Security recipients "should not have to be dependent for their retirement and basic needs upon the ups and downs of the stock market."

"All of us believe the federal deficit is a significant problem that Congress must address, but Social Security should not be a part of that debate," the senators said. "Social Security is the cornerstone of our nation's retirement system and it should be supported, strengthened and preserved. Workers and employers have paid dedicated taxes into the system, and it belongs to every American."

Sanders' Senate resolution cosponsors are Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).