MEMO: How Social Security Could Swing The Primary & General Election

Yahoo News notes "Biden expressed openness to cutting Social Security and backed legislation that could have led to cuts"

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Yahoo News just published a new report on a new Bernie 2020 memo reviewing how the Democratic primary is focusing on Bernie and Biden’s records on Social Security. Here is the memo.

To: Interested Parties

From: Bernie 2020

RE: Biden vs. Bernie on Social Security

Joe Biden has just launched a new television ad attempting to hide his 30+ year record working with Republicans to try to cut Social Security. Biden’s ad responds to a Bernie 2020 ad that includes audio of Biden bragging about repeatedly working with Republicans to try to freeze funding for Social Security.

Biden clearly knows this is an enormous weakness in the Democratic primary, and it would be a major political vulnerability in a general election. Bernie does not have that same vulnerability -- unlike Biden, Bernie has unwaveringly fought to protect and expand Social Security for his entire career. What follows is a review of Biden and Bernie’s record on Social Security. For an even more thorough review of Bernie’s lifelong fight to defend Social Security, click here.


• 1983: Biden floated raising the Social Security retirement age: “Biden also suggested that a gradual increase in the retirement age would help improve the Social Security system.” [Salisbury Daily Times, 1/11/83]

• 1984: Biden partnered with Republicans to co-sponsor freezing Social Security. “The year was 1984 and Senator Joe Biden was sounding the alarm over Ronald Reagan's budget deficits. His proposal, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., included a one-year freeze of all federal spending including Social Security (no cost of living increase) and defense (no pay increase for the troops). ‘So, when those of my friends in the Democratic and Republican Party say to me, 'How do you expect me to vote for your proposal? Does it not freeze Social Security COLA's for 1 year? Are we not saying there will be no cost-of -living increases for one year?' The answer to that is 'Yes,’ that is what I am saying,’ Biden said in a speech on the Senate floor on April 24, 1984.”  [ABC News, 10/11/12]


• 1994: Bernie campaigned against and voted against balanced budget amendments that cut Social Security. In his tough 1994 reelection battle, Bernie Sanders campaigned explicitly against Republican efforts to cut Social Security. That included an advertisement headlined “Some people want to cut Social Security Benefits -- Not Bernie Sanders.” The ad said “the United States does have a serious deficit problem, but we can solve it without balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly.” [1994 Bernie Sanders ad]

• 1995: Biden slammed by seniors groups for working with the GOP to cut Social Security: “Angry lobbying groups for senior citizens, children and families, and congressional watchdogs united Friday to denounce Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. for his support of the GOP’s balanced budget amendment…Biden ‘can’t have it both ways,’ said Bill Clark of Harberson, a volunteer for the AARP, which held a news conference in Wilmington on Friday. The bill ‘is nothing more than a raid on Social Security’s trust funds.’ Biden has said the balanced budget amendment would result in Social Security cuts.” [Wilmington News Journal, 2/25/95]

• 1995: Biden touted his efforts to freeze Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans spending: “When I argued that we should freeze Federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the Government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.”...“I am a Democrat that voted for the constitutional amendment to balance the budget. I have introduced on four occasions—four occasions—entire plans to balance a budget…I tried with Senator Grassley back in the 1980’s to freeze all Government spending, including Social Security, including everything.” [Congressional Record, 1/31/95; C-SPAN, 11/16/95]

• 1995 and 1997: Biden voted for Balanced Budget Amendments that cut Social Security: “In 1995, Biden chose to side with the new Republican majority in Congress and backed a balanced budget amendment to the constitution...The amendment ultimately lost by a single vote in the Senate, because Democrats said that they were worried it would lead Congress to raid the Social Security Trust Fund in order to limit the deficit. Biden, along with other members of his party, had fought to tweak the amendment so that it would exclude the retirement program. But after that effort failed, he put his concerns aside and voted yay with the GOP anyway. When Republicans took a second doomed shot at the balanced budget amendment in 1997, he supported it again. [Slate, 1/21/20]

• 1996: Biden pushes Social Security benefit cuts during his campaign: “Biden offered several possibilities, including dropping 1 percentage point off the inflation rate used to calculate Social Security retirement increases.” [Wilmington News Journal, 10/25/96]

• 1998: Sanders voted against a panel that was supposed to recommend long-range changes to Social Security - an opening for cuts.  On April 29, 1998, Bernie Sanders opposed passage of the bill to create an eight-member bipartisan panel to recommend long-range changes to keep Social Security from going bankrupt, and direct the president and Congress to convene a national dialogue on the future of Social Security with help from members of private public interest groups. Passed 413-8: R 222-1; D 191-6; I 0-1. A majority of House Democrats supported the proposal. [H R 3546, Vote #116, 4/29/98; CQ Floor Votes, 4/29/98]


• 2007: Biden says he was proud of supporting a Social Security age increase with the GOP. “SEN. BIDEN: The answer is yes. I'm probably the only one up here who's going to say that. But the truth of the matter is, you've stated it. You're either going to cut benefits or you're going to go ahead and raise taxes above the first $97,000. And by the way, I was in that room with Pat Moynihan. It was Joe Biden, Pat Moynihan, Bob Dole -- it was also George Mitchell -- when we made that deal. I'll never forget Bob Dole turning to Pat Moynihan and saying, we all got to jump in this boat at the same time. So the bottom line here is, you can't do it by growing the economy alone. So I would raise the cap. MR. RUSSERT: Would you also, considering now life expectancy is 78, considering -- consider gradually raising the retirement age? SEN. BIDEN: Well, we did that once, I supported that. That's what got it solvent to 2041. By simply going and taking -- raising the cap, you can solve the problem.” [C-SPAN, 9/26/2007]

• 2007: As Obama opposes retirement age increase, Biden proposes Social Security plan that is open to raising the retirement age. NBC reported that to protect Social Security, Biden said he would bring both parties to the table to keep the plan paying out. That would include discussing options such as upping the retirement age.” By contrast, Sen. Barack Obama wrote an oped that same month declaring “I do not want to cut benefits or raise the retirement age. I believe there are a number of ways we can make Social Security solvent that do not involve placing these added burdens on our seniors.”  [NBC News, 9/27/07; Quad City Times, 9/21/07]

• 2007: Biden told Meet the Press that Social Security and Medicare “absolutely” should be on the table: MR. RUSSERT: But, senator, we have a deficit. We have Social Security and Medicare looming. The number of people on Social Security and Medicare is now 40 million people. It’s going to be 80 million in 15 years. Would you consider looking at those programs, age of eligibility… SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. MR. RUSSERT: ...cost of living, put it all on the table. SEN. BIDEN: The answer is absolutely. [Meet The Press via Youtube, 9/28/12


• 2009-2011: Biden pushes for deal with GOP for Social Security cuts: “In journalist Bob Woodward's 2012 bookThe Price of Politics, he portrays Biden during Obama’s first term eager to sacrifice Social Security and Medicare for the sake of bipartisan compromise and achieving what would be, in the eyes of Washington, a political victory...Biden took a far more direct role in undermining Social Security and Medicare when he headed tax policy negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in December 2010. In Woodward's telling, Biden's eagerness to cut a deal with the Republicans sometimes elicited outrage from his fellow Democrats.” [In These Times, 4/26/19]

• 2010: Bernie fought Biden-negotiated plan that could drain resources from Social Security: “It was in December 2010 that Sanders filibustered the Biden-negotiated deal with Republicans that extended Bush-era tax cuts, cut the estate tax, continued unemployment benefits and created a temporary Social Security payroll tax cut, or ‘tax holiday.’...(Sanders) fretted that temporarily trimming Social Security taxes could ultimately help weaken the program.” [Politico, 1/13/20]

• 2011: Biden assured Chinese investors that he had worked with Republicans on a deal because “entitlement programs” were “not sustainable without some changes”:  “We do have a deficit that I was asked by the President to head up a commission to try to deal with that deficit.  And we made some significant progress, but not the progress we could have made and will make. The bottom line is we have to deal with two elements of our economy.  One is what we call entitlement programs -- long-term commitments to our people in the area of particularly Medicare. That is the safety net we have for people once they reach the age of 65 to be able to be assured that they have health care. And it is not sustainable without some changes in large part because we had what we call a baby boom, which doesn’t sound like much to Chinese -- 40 million people is not a big deal, I know.  (Laughter.) But adding 40 million people to those who will benefit from the Medicare -- Medicaid payment -- Medicare payments has put the program in a position where changes have to be made.” [Vice President Biden, 8/21/2011]

• 2011: Bernie creates the Defending Social Security Caucus in the Senate. “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has created a Social Security caucus in the Senate to defend the entitlement program from anticipated attacks...The new caucus will focus solely on defending Social Security.” [Bennington Banner, 1/27/11]

• 2015: Sanders Spearheaded Letter To President Obama Calling For Expansion of Social Security. “Scores of Democrats are calling on President Obama to champion an expansion of Social Security benefits for millions of seniors nationwide. In a letter to be delivered to the White House Monday, the lawmakers say evolving trends surrounding employer retirement packages have put a financial squeeze on the nation's retirees.The letter is spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Budget Committee and a 2016 presidential contender...Senior advocates are also joining the fight.” [The Hill, 7/12/15]

• 2016: Bernie credited with successfully partnering with President Obama and other Democrats to support expanding Social Security: The New York Times reported that "President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are rallying around proposals to expand Social Security and increase benefits, a sea change after three decades dominated by concern over the program’s rising costs. The Democrats’ new consensus was driven by the populist election-year politics of Senator Bernie Sanders and by a realization that many workers have neither traditional pensions nor any significant retirement savings.  Mr. Sanders campaigned hard on promises to expand Social Security.” The Nation added that “Bernie single-handedly forced the issue of Social Security expansion onto the national political agenda.” [New York Times, 6/19/16; The Nation, 6/3/16]

• 2018: Bernie creates the Expand Social Security Caucus: Sanders led the founding of the Expand Social Security Caucus, comprised of 16 senators and more than 130 House members. “The caucus is committed to expanding Social Security, one of the most popular and successful government programs.” [Sanders press release, 9/13/18]

• 2019: Bernie introduces legislation to expand Social Security: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced legislation Wednesday to expand Social Security benefits and strengthen the retirement program for generations to come...The legislation would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by more accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors. The bill would also ensure that Social Security could pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 52 years, according to the retirement system’s chief actuary. It would extend the program’s solvency by making the wealthiest 1.8 percent of Americans – those with incomes of more than $250,000 a year – pay the same rate into the retirement system as everyone else already pays. [Sanders release, 2/13/19]