Release: Senate Panel Looks at Social Security

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a Senate hearing today that a White House commission on deficits should reject proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age.

"The federal deficit is a significant problem that Congress must address, but Social Security should not be a part of that debate because it has not contributed a dime to the deficits," Sanders said at a hearing held by the Senate pensions committee.

Social Security, private pensions and individual savings make up the so-called three-legged stool of retirement security in America. Savings and pensions for millions of Americans have been eroded by the worst recession since the 1930s. Now, Social Security is threatened by the Bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility.

Preparing to issue a report on Dec. 1, the commission is eyeing Social Security's $2.6 trillion surplus today and $4 trillion projected cushion in 2023 as a way to erase red ink elsewhere in the budget. Sanders used the Senate hearing to raise a red flag about a pushing the retirement age up to 70.  

Sanders received a letter written by a 63-year-old sheet metal worker from North Kirby, Vt., who called proposals to make workers stay on the job until they turn 70 "totally wrong."

"In a song about cowboys, Willie Nelson sings about ‘knowing well that your best days are gone.' Well, this 63-year-old union sheet metal worker is either there or pushing it hard - depending on the day. Another two-and-a-half years of leaving home at 2 a.m. Monday, driving 500 - 1,000 miles per week and not getting home until Friday night will be quite enough, thank you," Bart Wilder told the senator in the hand-written letter. Borrowing lyrics from another songwriter and singer, Wilder added, "I hope to have at least a couple of ‘happy trips around the sun' to spend with my wife at our home before my journey is over."

Sanders and 11 cosponsors last week introduced a resolution putting the White House on notice that raising the retirement age for Social Security, privatizing the program, or cutting benefits would meet stiff opposition on Capitol Hill. The resolution notes that Social Security has run surpluses for the last 25 years.