Sanders, MacGovern Diverge On Social Security Policy
09/25/12 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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One of the major policy differences between Senator Bernie Sanders and his Republican challenger John MacGovern is how to revamp Social Security.
Last week, Sanders was part of a group of 29 U.S. Senators that sent a clear message to other members of Congress.
Sanders says that message was don't consider major changes to the Social Security program as part of a larger debate over how to reduce the nation's budget deficit.
"Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit because it's funded by the payroll tax. Further more the Social Security Trust Fund today has a $2.7 trillion surplus to pay out all benefits for the next 21 years," said Sanders. "So don't discuss Social Security within the context of deficit reduction."
Sanders says the best way to strengthen Social Security is to raise the salary cap for the payroll tax. Right now that cap is roughly $110,000.
"If you lift that cap and you even start at 250,000 a year you will in fact bring in enough revenue to make Social Security strong for our kids and grandchildren to pay out all benefits for the next 75 years."
Sanders doesn't support raising the retirement age, he opposes the privatization of these retirement accounts, and he rejects a plan to reduce payments for wealthy people:
"Once you start doing that today it is a million dollars, next year it's $100,000, ten years from now Social Security becomes a welfare program for low income seniors."
Republican candidate John MacGovern has a very different approach:
"I'm running because I think we're in a major crisis, we're not in a little crisis in which we have to tinker around the edges and we have to be brave and bold and courageous in order to save Social Security."
MacGovern says many options should be on the table for discussion for people under 55, including raising the retirement age, privatizing some funds and means testing the program:
"That might be one of the changes you would put in place but going forward," said MacGovern. "So all these things should be on the table."
And MacGovern says it's critical for Congress to have a healthy debate about all of these issues.
"The idea that anyone who wants to address these problems is out to destroy Social Security is entirely false," said MacGovern. "And I would say anyone who's saying keep your hands off of Social Security is being irresponsible and is the one who if we follow that advice, would destroy Social Security."
Two years ago Congress lowered the Social Security payroll tax rate to 4.2 percent but the rate will go back to its previous level of 6.2 percent unless Congress acts during the lame duck session after the election.