In late March, the U.S. Senate took three votes related to Social Security benefit amounts that may hold clues to how candidates will line up on the issue in the presidential campaigns.
While none of the proposals passed, they were especially notable for how the parties lined up in their votes, with nearly all Democrats voting to expand Social Security, while every Republican voted no way. Indeed, it was the sharp partisan split that drew most media attention.
“The distinction between Democrats and Republicans couldn’t be clearer,” according to an article by The Huffington Post. “The Democratic Party, which created Social Security, now in its 80th year, is unmistakably the strong champion of the program. The Republican Party which, in 1935, voted nearly unanimously to kill the legislation in the House of Representatives is unmistakably on record for favoring scaling back working American’s modest earned Social Security benefits.”
The late night action on Thursday began when Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) offered an amendment that aimed to protect Americans against cuts to their current earned benefits amounts.
Shortly after, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered a similar amendment that would protect only current beneficiaries from cuts.
Finally, near 2:30 a.m., Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) offered an amendment proposing an expansion of the Social Security program. The proposal was co-sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
The proposal by Warren and company drew the most immediate attention due to its political ramifications. Though unsuccessful, this proposal forced every member of the Senate to officially go on record as to whether they favor or oppose expanding Social Security benefits.
This is important for three reasons: current estimates are that the Social Security program will exhaust available funds by 2033 unless Congress takes action; the Thursday vote could put Social Security front and center in the president debates in 2016; and a growing number of groups and individuals are calling for Warren to make a run for the White House.
Lesser of Two Evils
While there is still ample time to act before 2033 to “rescue” the solvency of Social Security, at some point Congress will have to take some sort of action, either to increase the Social Security tax or reduce benefits paid out. Either option is a bitter pill.