BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 14 -Amid warning signs that Social Security faces new threats from some quarters at the White House and on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged President Barack Obama to preserve the "strong and vibrant" system that serves more than 52 million Americans.
In a letter to the president, Sanders referred to what he called "worrisome reports" that Obama is considering cuts in Social Security. "I hope that information is wrong and that you will stand by your campaign promises to strengthen Social Security," the senator said. "I urge you once again to make it clear to the American people that under your watch we will not cut Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize this critical program."
A White House fiscal commission appointed by Obama recently called for changes in Social Security. A change in how Social Security is funded as part of the tax deal Obama reached in December with congressional Republicans was another warning sign, Sanders said. Another red flag was raised when Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee evaded a direct question about Social Security cuts. "Let's not rule everything out," Goolsbee said during a Jan. 7 interview on CNN. On Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly has said he supports raising the Social Security retirement age to 70.
In fact, the Social Security trust fund has a $2.6 trillion surplus projected to increase to more than $4 trillion by 2023, the senator noted in his letter. The 75-year-old system will be able to continue to pay every nickel owed to ever eligible recipient for at least another 26 years. "All of us want to work in a bipartisan manner when we can, but needlessly cutting Social Security benefits when that has nothing to do with our deficit situation is not good public policy," Sanders said.
The senator agreed with statements by Obama in 2007 and 2008, when he called Social Security "a fundamentally sound system" and dismissed as "not good policy options" proposals to cut benefits, raise the retirement age or increase taxes on all workers.
To strengthen Social Security in the future, Sanders supported an idea Obama voiced last fall when he broached the possibility of raising a cap on earnings subject to the payroll taxes. Earnings of more than $106,800 currently are not taxed for Social Security.
"Our Republican colleagues have long opposed Social Security not because it hasn't worked, but because of ideological reasons. Despite its extraordinary success, they simply believe that government should not be involved in providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled or widows or orphans. They would prefer Wall Street and the private sector do that. But that has not been your position," the senator wrote to the president, "and that is not the promise you made to the American people."
As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders has offered an array of proposals to bring down the national debt. He has called for the elimination of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, favored doing away with wasteful tax incentives for oil companies that are among the most profitable corporations in the world, advocated reforms in wasteful Pentagon procurement programs and urged the Defense Department to phase out expensive but outdated cold war-era defense systems.