BURLINGTON, Vt., Aug. 25 - U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced today that he will introduce legislation when Congress reconvenes to strengthen and preserve Social Security.
Since it was signed into law 76 years ago this month, Social Security has kept millions of senior citizens, widows, orphans, and the disabled out of poverty. To keep Social Security strong for another 75 years, Sanders' legislation would apply the same payroll tax already paid by more than nine out of 10 Americans to those with incomes over $250,000 a year.
Joined at a press conference by leaders of Vermont seniors organizations, Sanders also cautioned that Social Security may be in jeopardy as a powerful new congressional "super committee" looks for ways to cut deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
"We are here today to send a loud and clear message to this super committee: do not cut Social Security," Sanders said at the news conference with Janet Dermody, deputy director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living; Jim Coutts, director of the Franklin County Senior Center; and Jane Osgatharp, a retired state worker who sits on the Alliance of Retired Americans board of directors.
Before Social Security, about half of our senior citizens lived in poverty. Today, less than 10 percent live in poverty. More than 53 million Americans, including more than 120,000 Vermonters, receive Social Security benefits.
Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation's history. It has not contributed one dime to the federal deficit. It has a $2.5 trillion surplus, and it can pay out every nickel owed to every eligible American for at least the next 25 years, according to the Social Security Administration. A recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that Social Security is in even better financial shape and can pay all promised benefits until 2038.
One way benefits could be cut would be to lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients. Even under today's formula that underestimates senior living costs, there has been no COLA in the last two years. Proposed changes in the way inflation is calculated would cost a retiree living on $16,000 a year about $560 a year when they turn 75 and pay $1,000 less at age 85.
Under Sanders' legislation, Social Security benefits would be untouched. The system would be fully funded by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax already assessed on those with incomes up to $106,800 a year. The idea follows through on a proposal that President Obama made when he was running for office in 2008.