The next big fight over the safety net

The Washington Post

Word has it that Democrats are set to take a shellacking in the 2014 elections, in part because midterm electorates tend to be older and whiter. So what if Dems campaigned on expanding Social Security, rather than allowing themselves to get drawn into another debate over how much to cut the program?

There’s a hook for this looming: The coming battle over disability insurance, which is a part of Social Security.

Dem Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of the Finance Committee, tells me that GOP Senators have requested hearings into Social Security Disability Insurance this summer. Dems expect Republicans to attack the program as wasteful and fraudulent, in part because conservative media have already done so, and in part because at least one GOP proposal in recent days took aim at the program.

Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. Instead of getting drawn into debates about “Chained CPI” and other entitlement cuts, Brown says, Dems should make the case that stagnating wages and declining pensions and savings demand an expansion of social insurance.

“We should stop playing defense on Social Security, and instead talk about why Social Security is a public pension that we should be proud of, that has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty,” Brown tells me. “The three-legged stool — Social Security, pensions, private savings — has seen two of the legs sawed off for a large number of people. It’s time to look at expanding Social Security as an issue of retirement security.”

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The next big fight over the safety net »