Liberal Democrats had reason to celebrate Sen. Brian Schatz’s victory over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa late last week in Hawaii’s hurricane-delayed Democratic Senate primary: Schatz is one of a few prominent candidates nationally to call for a major expansion of Social Security benefits.
Appointed by Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie to succeed the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Schatz finished with just 1,769 votes more than Hanabusa last Friday after a makeup election for “two Hawaii islands precincts [that were] unable to cast ballots because of surrounding damage from Tropical Storm Iselle,” according to Honolulu’s Star Advertiser.
Schatz embraced a congressional push led by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mark Begich of Alaska – another Democrat facing a tough reelection battle this fall – to expand Social Security benefits in the coming decades. The expansion would be achieved by changing the cost-of-living formula to favor seniors and eliminating the current $113,700 a year cap on payroll taxes.
He contended that the bill – which also calls for tax increases – would keep Social Security solvent through 2049 and raise benefits by about $65 a month.
Throughout the long and acrimonious campaign, Schatz hammered Hanabusa for supporting a budget plan based on the Simpson-Bowles national fiscal commission recommendations that would have meant a reduction in Social Security and Medicare benefits over the long run. Hanabusa, who reportedly had been Inouye’s personal choice to succeed him, was put on the defensive. She aired an ad late in the campaign that sought to assure voters she would protect Social Security.
“This is a huge victory for the populist Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics, and a big blow to the corporate wing,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political advocacy group that strongly backed Schatz’s primary campaign. “Brian Schatz won by campaigning on a bold platform of expanding Social Security benefits.”
PCCC members contributed over $73,000 to Schatz’s campaign, and the organization ran online ads in the final days of the election that stressed the stakes for Social Security, according to a spokesperson.
The idea of boosting Social Security benefits for years flourished only among Democrats on the left and in the blogosphere, as lawmakers voiced concerns about the deficit and the long-term solvency of major entitlement programs.
Late last month, the Social Security Trustees issued their annual report projecting that the combined Old Age, Survivors and Disability insurance trust fund will run out of money in 2033 unless Congress takes action to control long-term spending, as The Fiscal Times has noted.
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