Q13: Do you support the protection of Social Security as a federal entitlement program and strengthening it for future generations?
Clinton: “I am strongly committed to defending and expanding Social Security. For 80 years, Social Security has been America at its best. Social Security reflects our shared belief that every American should be able to retire with dignity after decades of hard work.
As president, I will defend Social Security against Republican attacks. Social Security must remain what it has always been: a rock-solid benefit that seniors can always count on—not subject to the budget whims of Congress or to the fluctuations of the stock market. I fought Republican efforts to undermine Social Security when I was a senator and throughout my career, and I will do so as president.
Specifically, I would fight any attempts to gamble seniors’ retirement security on the stock market through privatization. I would oppose reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments, and Republican efforts to raise the retirement age—an unfair idea that will particularly hurt the seniors who have worked the hardest throughout their lives. And as a basic principle, I oppose closing the long-term shortfall on the backs of the middle class, whether through benefit cuts or tax increases.
In addition to defending Social Security, I believe we should expand it for those who need it most and who are treated unfairly by the current system. That includes women who are widows and those who took significant time out of the paid workforce to take care of their children, aging parents, or ailing family members. Social Security works well, but it should work better. I will fight to expand Social Security for those who need it most and who are treated unfairly today.
For instance, the poverty rate for widowed women 65 or older is nearly 90 percent higher than for other seniors—in part because when a spouse dies, families can face a steep benefit cut. For a two- earner couple, those benefit cuts can be as much as 50 percent. I believe that we have to change that by reducing how much Social Security benefits drop when a spouse dies, so that the loss of a spouse doesn’t mean financial hardship or falling into poverty.
Additionally, millions of women—and men—take time out of the paid workforce to raise a child, take care of an aging parent or look after an ailing family member. Caregiving is hard work that benefits our entire economy. However, when Americans take time off to take care of a relative, that can reduce their Social Security benefits at retirement, since those benefits are calculated based on their top thirty-five years of earnings. No one should face meager Social Security checks because they took on the vital role of caregiver for part of their career. Americans should receive credit toward their Social Security benefits when they are out of the paid workforce because they are acting as caregivers.
Finally, preserving Social Security for decades to come means that we have to ask the most fortunate to contribute more. Social Security must continue to guarantee dignity in retirement for future generations. I understand that there is no way to accomplish that goal without asking the highest- income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system.”
Sanders: Yes. “For more than 75 years, Social Security has, in good times and bad, paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. Before Social Security was signed into law, nearly half of all senior citizens were living in poverty. Today, while much too high, the senior poverty rate is 10 percent. Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows and orphans, and the disabled out of extreme poverty.
“Despite the success of Social Security, not too long ago, virtually every Republican and too many Democrats in Congress were talking about cutting Social Security by enacting a chained CPI. They told us that cost-of-living adjustments for seniors were “too generous” and needed to be cut. I was proud to fight against these attacks on Social Security. I formed the Defending Social Security Caucus and I worked with organizations representing millions of seniors, veterans, workers, women, and the disabled. And through this extraordinary grassroots movement we beat back the effort to cut Social Security – an effort that was funded by Wall Street billionaires and some of the most powerful CEOs in this country.
“I believe that Social Security should be expanded and strengthen for generations to come. The most effective way to strengthen Social Security for the future is to eliminate the cap on the payroll tax on all incomes above $250,000 so millionaires and billionaires pay the same share as everyone else. Under current law, the amount of income subject to the payroll tax is capped at $118,500. That means a billionaire pays the same amount of money into Social Security as someone who makes $118,500. That is not right. That is not fair. And that has got to change.
“At a time when over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings and senior poverty is increasing, we should not be talking about cutting Social Security benefits. We should instead be working to expand benefits to make sure that every American can retire with dignity.”
Carson: “We need to remember the purpose and objective of social security to make sure seniors have a reasonable and respectable standard of living. We must not break this commitment to seniors, but we need to resolve the funding problems with social security in the near term. We must also not deceive ourselves and recognize that strengthening it for future generations may include giving Americans greater options of how they want to manage their own social security.”