Bernie Sanders on Social Security

Democratic primary challenger; Independent VT Senator; previously Representative (VT-At-Large)


Apply payroll-tax to income over $250,000

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg proposed more than doubling Social Security's payroll-tax cap--and he's just the latest to do so.

Mayor Pete, as he's often called, said he'd like to increase the cap of income eligible for payroll taxes from what it is now at $132,900 to about $250,000, while speaking at an AARP Forum in Iowa. "I have a very personal stake in making sure that Social Security and Medicare are there when you retire and when I retire, and if you look at the numbers, that won't happen without some adjustments," he said.

Other Democrats have suggested similar strategies. Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, proposed subjecting anyone with income over $250,000 to the payroll tax, which would create a gap between the current tax cap and the new one. That gap would narrow over time as the cap naturally lifted every year.

Source: MarketWatch e-zine on 2019 Democratic primary , Jul 22, 2019

I helped create the Social Security Caucus

As a staunch defender of Social Security, I helped lead the fight against Republicans, and some Democrats, who wanted to cut this program--which is life and death for so many seniors and people with disabilities. Working with seniors' organizations, I helped create the Defending Social Security Caucus. The other senators in the caucus and I took on the Bowles-Simpson Commission, billionaire Pete Peterson and his organization, and a whole lot of other groups that wanted to cut Social Security in one way or another. In the end, barely, we managed to prevail--and Social Security was not touched.
Source: Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p. 45 , Nov 15, 2016

We have to do better on both SSDI and elder poverty

When people become old, they often become frail and sick. They are unable to work and earn an income. In a civilized society, the older generation--the people who raised us--are entitled, and allowed, to live out their remaining years in dignity and security. For millions of seniors, that is most certainly not the case. We must change that.

Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation's history. Before Social Security was signed into law, nearly half of our senior citizens lived in poverty. Today the elderly poverty rate is 8.8%.

Social Security is not just a retirement program. It is an insurance program that protects millions of Americans who become disabled. Incredibly, the only source of income for about 3 million persons with disabilities is a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit that averages just $35 a day. Today, 28.5 percent of disabled Americans are living in poverty. We have got to do a lot better than that.

Source: Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p. 411-3 , Nov 15, 2016

Lift cap on wealthy: at $250,000 program lasts 58 years

We should lift the cap on taxable income coming into the Social Security Trust Fund, starting at $250,000. We expand Social Security by $1,300 a year for people under $16,000, and we extend the life of Social Security for 58 years. The wealthiest people will pay more in taxes. I will do everything I can to expand Social Security benefits, not just for seniors, but for disabled veterans, as well.
Source: 2016 PBS Democratic debate in Wisconsin , Feb 11, 2016

Criminal to not have COLA increases for seniors

The Social Security administration said that there would not be a COLA [cost-of-living adjustments] for our seniors and disabled people. That's only the third time in the last 40 years. I think that's absurd.

Prescription drug costs have gone up. Seniors are paying more. We need to change the formula and we've got legislation in to do that, to ascertain what real cost of living is for seniors.

And I am going to fight very hard. You've got millions of seniors trying to get by on $13,000, $14,000 a year making choices between medicine and food. That is criminal. And we've got to change the formula by which COLAs are depended--are created so that seniors get a fair shake.

Source: ABC This Week 2015 interview by Martha Raddatz , Oct 18, 2015

Defend against chained CPI, and expand Social Security

Q [to CLINTON]: Senator Sanders would expand Social Security. What's wrong with that?

CLINTON: I fully support Social Security, and will defend it against continuing Republican efforts to privatize it.

Q: Do you want to expand it?

CLINTON: I want to enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security.

SANDERS: When the Republicans in the Congress and some Democrats were talking about cutting Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans, for the so-called chained CPI, I q founded a caucus called the Defending Social Security Caucus. When you have millions of seniors in this country trying to get by--and I don't know how they do on $13,000 a year--you don't cut Social Security, you expand it. And the way you expand it is by lifting the cap on taxable incomes so that you do away with the absurdity of a millionaire paying the same amount into the system as somebody making $118,000. You do that, Social Security is solvent until 2061 and you can expand benefits.

Source: 2015 CNN Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas , Oct 13, 2015

No cuts; no privatization; even to deal with deficit

Today, Social Security is facing an unprecedented attack from those who either want to privatize it completely or who want to make substantial cuts. A super-committee in Congress will be making decisions to cut the national debt by some $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Social Security is on the table.

The argument being used to cut Social Security is that because we have a significant deficit problem and a $14 trillion national debt, we just can't afford to maintain Social Security benefits. This argument is false. Social Security, because it is funded by the payroll tax, not the US Treasury, has not contributed one nickel to our deficit.

Unfortunately, Congress has been discussing harmful cuts to Social Security as part of an overall scheme to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and working families. That is wrong, it is unconscionable, and it must not happen

Source: 2016 grassroots campaign website FeelTheBern.org, "Issues" , Sep 5, 2015

Raise the Social Security cap on taxable income

I believe that, as opposed to my Republican colleagues who want to cut Social Security, I believe we should expand Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income. That's not Hillary Clinton's position.

I believe that we have got to raise the minimum wage over a period of several years to $15 an hour--not Hillary Clinton's position. I voted against the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton voted for it.

Source: CNN SOTU 2015 interview series: 2016 presidential hopefuls , Aug 30, 2015

Strengthen the social safety net, instead of weakening it

Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.
Source: 2016 presidential campaign website, BernieSanders.com , Mar 21, 2015

We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it

Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans:
Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.

Health Care as a Right for All:
The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.

Source: 12 Steps Forward, by Sen. Bernie Sanders , Jan 15, 2015

Chairman of the Defend Social Security Caucus

In Vermont no one has heard of the concept of chained CPI. I have asked them, and they do not know what chained CPI is, which is what they are trying to pass here. It is this belief--and senior citizens back home will start laughing when I say this-- that COLAs for Social Security are too high. Seniors back home are scratching their head a chained CPI, which, if it were imposed--and I will do everything I can to see it does not get imposed--would mean seniors between the ages of 65 and 75 would lose about $550 a year. Then, when they are 85 and they are trying to get by on $13,000 or $14,000 a year, it will cost them about 1,000 bucks a year. That is what some of our colleagues want to do--virtually all the Republicans want to do it and some Democrats want to do it as well. I am going to, as chairman of the Defend Social Security Caucus, do everything I can to prevent that.
Source: The Essential Bernie Sanders, by Jonathan Tasini, p. 67 , Jun 27, 2012

Payroll tax holiday diverts revenue from Trust Fund

[The Obama-Republican tax agreement] contains a payroll tax holiday which would cut $120 billion from Social Security payroll taxes for workers. There are a lot of folks out there who say: "This is pretty good. I am a worker, my contribution will go from 6.2% today down to 4.2%."

This payroll tax holiday concept originally started with conservative Republicans. These are the same people who either want to make significant cuts in Social Security or else they want to privatize Social Security entirely. Here is the point: They understand that if we divert funding that is supposed to go into the Social Security trust fund, which is what this payroll tax holiday does, that is a lot of money not going into the trust fund.

What the President and others are saying is not to worry because that money will be covered by the general fund. That is a very bad and dangerous precedent. Up until now, what Social Security has been about is 100% funding from payroll contributions, not from the general tax base.

Source: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster, by Bernie Sanders , Dec 10, 2010

Most successful Federal program in history of our country

[This Obama-Republican tax plan] would cut $120 billion in Social Security payroll tax for workers. On the surface, this sounds like a very good idea because the worker, instead of paying 6.2% into Social Security, pays 4.2%. If you think about it for 2 seconds, you really understand that it is not a good idea because this is money being diverted from the Social Security trust fund.

Social Security, in my view, has been the most successful Federal program in perhaps the history of our country. In the last 75 years, whether in good or bad times, Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. Today, Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus. Today, Social Security can pay out benefits for the next 29 years. What we must do is make sure we extend it beyond 29 years, for the next 75 years. Well, if we divert $120 billion from the Social Security trust fund and give it to workers today, what you are doing is cutting back the long-term viability of Social Security.

Source: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster, by Bernie Sanders , Dec 10, 2010

Despite GOP rhetoric, Social Security is NOT going bankrupt

Using Social Security taxes for private accounts
Richard TarrantNo response
Bernard SandersOpposes
Q Will you support or oppose using Social Security taxes to fund private accounts?

A: As Vermont’s Congressman I have vigorously opposed President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security. Social Security is the most successful anti-poverty program in history. We must strengthen it, not destroy it. Despite the President’s rhetoric, Social Security is NOT going bankrupt. By repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the very rich, and making some minor changes to the funding of the Social Security program, Social Security will be able to pay out every penny owed to every eligible beneficiary for the indefinite future. I oppose privatization plans that would drain money from Social Security and I oppose raising the retirement age or cuts to promised benefits.

Source: 2006 AARP Senate candidate questionnaire , Sep 29, 2006

It's regressive to increase taxable Social Security income

Clinton's 1993 budget included a largely PROGRESSIVE tax proposal which fell disproportionately on the wealthiest people in the country. 90% of the total tax increase fell on the UPPER 4%, those people then earning $100,000 a year or more. Only the top 1.2% saw an increase in income taxes. In fact, as a result of a substantial increase in the earned income tax credit included in that budget, 20 million low-income families, including 26,000 families in VT, saw a DECREASE in their federal taxes. For the middle class, and the vast majority of Vermonters, there was almost no tax increase at all.

Unfortunately, there WERE elements of regressive taxation in that proposal. Clinton increased the amount of taxable Social Security income. That hike affected the upper 13% of Social Security recipients, many of whom live on only $44,000/year. I opposed these aspects of the legislation when it was debated because I have always been a strong proponent of fair taxation.

Source: Outsider in the House, by Bernie Sanders, p.196 , Jun 17, 1997

Voted NO on establishing reserve funds & pre-funding for Social Security.

Voting YES would:
  1. require that the Federal Old Age and Survivors Trust Fund be used only to finance retirement income of future beneficiaries;
  2. ensure that there is no change to benefits for individuals born before January 1, 1951
  3. provide participants with the benefits of savings and investment while permitting the pre-funding of at least some portion of future benefits; and
  4. ensure that the funds made available to finance such legislation do not exceed the amounts estimated to be actuarially available.

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

Perhaps the worst example of wasteful spending is when we take the taxes people pay for Social Security and, instead of saving them, we spend them on other things. Even worse than spending Social Security on other things is we do not count it as debt when we talk about the deficit every year. So using the Social Security money is actually a way to hide even more wasteful spending without counting it as debt. This Amendment would change that.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

This amendment has a fatal flaw. It leaves the door open for private Social Security accounts by providing participants with the option of "pre-funding of at least some portion of future benefits."

Make no mistake about it, this is a stalking-horse for Social Security. It looks good on the surface, but this is an amendment to privatize Social Security.
Reference: Bill S.Amdt.489 on S.Con.Res.21 ; vote number 2007-089 on Mar 22, 2007

Voted NO on raising 401(k) limits & making pension plans more portable.

Comprehensive Retirement Security and Pension Reform Act of 2001: Vote to pass a bill that would raise the amount individuals may contribute to traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts and to 401[k] plans and make pensions plans more portable
Reference: Bill sponsored by Portman, R-OH; Bill HR 10 ; vote number 2001-96 on May 2, 2001

Voted NO on reducing tax payments on Social Security benefits.

Vote to pass a bill that would reduce the percentage of Social Security benefits that is taxable from 85 to 50 percent for single taxpayers with incomes over $25,000 and married couples with incomes over $32,000. The revenues that would be lost for the Medicare trust fund would be replaced by money from the general fund.
Reference: Bill sponsored by Archer, R-TX; Bill HR 4865 ; vote number 2000-450 on Jul 27, 2000

Voted YES on strengthening the Social Security Lockbox.

Amending the Social Security Lockbox bill to require that any budget surplus cannot be spent until the solvency of Social Security and Medicare is guaranteed.
Reference: Motion to Recommit introduced by Rangel, D-NY; Bill HR 1259 ; vote number 1999-163 on May 26, 1999

Changing Social Security disproportionately affects women.

Sanders co-sponsored changing Social Security disproportionately affect women

RESOLUTION: Recognizing the unique effects that proposals to reform Social Security may have on women.

Source: H.RES.128 01-H128 on May 1, 2001

Reject proposals for private saving accounts.

Sanders co-sponsored rejecting proposals for private saving accounts

To reject proposals to partially or completely substitute private saving accounts for the lifelong, guaranteed, inflation-protected insurance benefits provided through Social Security. The Congress finds the following:

  1. President Bush promised to partially privatize Social Security, and appointed a commission to develop a plan on his behalf.
  2. The commission developed three alternative plans that would partially privatize Social Security.
  3. The plans divert substantial monies from the Social Security Trust Funds to pay for the private accounts, which threatens benefits for current beneficiaries by significantly weakening the financial condition of the Trust Funds.
  4. The plans' cuts in disability and survivor benefits directly contradict the President's promise that disability and survivor benefits would be preserved under privatization.
  5. Furthermore, these reductions in guaranteed benefits apply to all workers, regardless of whether they chose to have an individual account or not.
  6. Substituting private accounts for guaranteed Social Security benefits increases financial risk for retirees, disabled workers and their families.
  7. Moreover, other proposals to privatize Social Security, such as the 'Social Security Guarantee Plus' plan or the 'Social Security Ownership and Guarantee' plan, establish private accounts that directly or indirectly reduce Social Security benefits.
Source: H.R.4780 02-H4780 on May 21, 2002

Rated 100% by the ARA, indicating a pro-senior voting record.

Sanders scores 100% by the ARA on senior issues

The mission of the Alliance for Retired Americans is to ensure social and economic justice and full civil rights for all citizens so that they may enjoy lives of dignity, personal and family fulfillment and security. The Alliance believes that all older and retired persons have a responsibility to strive to create a society that incorporates these goals and rights and that retirement provides them with opportunities to pursue new and expanded activities with their unions, civic organizations and their communities.

The following ratings are based on the votes the organization considered most important; the numbers reflect the percentage of time the representative voted the organization's preferred position.

Source: ARA website 03n-ARA on Dec 31, 2003

Reject privatization; don't raise the retirement age.

Sanders signed the Social Security Protectors Pledge

Some 200 Democratic House and Senate candidates have signed on to a pledge rejecting any effort to privatize or scale back Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee sponsored this pledge among Congressional candidates.

Source: PCCC Survey 10-PCCC on Aug 11, 2010

Sponsored keeping CPI for benefits instead of lower "Chained CPI".

Sanders co-sponsored Resolution on CPI

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION expressing the sense of the Congress that the Chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) should not be used to adjust Social Security benefits.