Democrats hope Social Security plans will win over voters

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Democrats are likely to step up their calls for expanding Social Security as the general election heats up.

President Obama recently garnered attention for calling for increased benefits. And advocates for expanding Social Security think the topic could be a good issue for Democrats as they try to unify the party behind presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and win over seniors, who are more likely to vote than other groups.

{mosads}Polls over the past few years have shown that most Americans don’t support cuts to the program.

“In a lot of ways, there isn’t a more winning issue for Democrats than Social Security expansion,” said Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who has sponsored legislation to expand benefits, said that Social Security is an “extraordinary, extraordinary position for Democrats.” He said Clinton is likely to talk about Social Security a lot, and he is hopeful that his proposal will be included in the party’s platform.

Democrats will talk about the topic as the election progresses “especially given what happened in 2008 and especially when so many Americans have witnessed first-hand that their 401(k)s became 101(k)s,” Larson told The Hill.

Clinton has said she will oppose efforts to cut or privatize Social Security and that she wants to increase benefits for widows and those who took time off from work to care for a child or a sick relative.

“We’re going to get it more solvent, and we’re going to fix some of the problems of the people who are most in need,” Clinton said during a town hall in February.

Clinton has suggested during the campaign that high earners should contribute more to Social Security to preserve and strengthen it, and that this could be done by taxing some income above the current cap or by taxing passive income. This is different from her 2008 position, when she opposed lifting the cap.

Clinton’s chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has proposed extending the Social Security’s solvency and increasing benefits across-the-board by lifting the cap for those making more than $250,000 per year. 

He has also asked Clinton in debates whether she explicitly would support lifting the cap for those making above that amount, but Clinton has suggested instead a combination of solutions, including lifting the cap. 

Since Clinton and Sanders have similarities on Social Security, it may be a topic that Clinton brings up as she tries to bring Sanders supporters into the fold.

“As Democrats try to unify more, I think you will see her talking about expanding Social Security more,” said Lacy Crawford, communications director for Social Security Works, a group that advocates for strengthening Social Security. 

Sanders supporters are very interested in economic issues like expanding Social Security, raising the minimum wage and paid family leave.

Clinton may also want to highlight the differences between her position and that of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Trump has said during the campaign that he will not cut Social Security. But in a book he wrote in 2000, he called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supported privatizing it. Trump adviser Sam Clovis recently appeared to suggest that Trump might look at cutting Social Security benefits after he has been in office a few years, though a spokesperson for the candidate disputed that that’s what Clovis said.

Social Security is another example “that Trump has been all over the place, that he’s unreliable,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga.

Obama said earlier this month that Americans have a choice this year “between strengthening Social Security and making it more generous, or making it harder to help people save and retire.”

Republicans have often suggested taking steps like raising the retirement age to keep the program solvent. Social Security is projected to be able to pay full benefits until 2034, and after that it is expected to be able to pay about three quarters of benefits.

Some have been critical of calls to expand benefits. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan budget watchdog, said in a recent report that “broad-based benefit increases would not be the best use of resources and would put the cart before the horse in terms of ensuring solvency.”

Social Security is also an issue that has garnered attention in Congress and competitive congressional races.

Democratic senators in the past several days have blasted a nominee for the Social Security and Medicare trustees board who has advocated for benefit cuts. Among those criticizing the nominee were Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), both of whom are often floated as potential running mates for Clinton.

The American Federation of Teachers has come out with ads hitting Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for his past support for privatizing Social Security. Portman faces a tough reelection battle against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D).

The Columbus Dispatch said that while Portman in 2005 supported then-president George W. Bush’s plan to allow people to invest some of their Social Security payroll taxes in investment accounts, he hasn’t called for a similar plan since then.

And in the Democratic Florida Senate primary between Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy, Grayson has accused Murphy of having a record of supporting Social Security and Medicare cuts. Murphy’s website states that he is opposed to cutting or privatizing the program. 

Tags Alan Grayson Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Rob Portman Sherrod Brown

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