With Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden clashing over their plans for the program, Social Security has become a flashpoint for the Democratic presidential candidates as we head toward the Iowa caucuses. Here's where they currently stand on the issue:
Joe Biden: Reversing a long-held belief that Social Security requires adjustments that include possible reductions in benefits, the former vice president now says that he opposes cuts to the program. In a recent campaign statement, Biden said he would improve Social Security’s finances by increasing taxes on high earners; oppose privatization and means-testing; increase benefits for older beneficiaries; implement a new minimum benefit equal to 125% of the poverty line for workers with 30 years of experience; change the rules to provide surviving spouses with higher payments; and eliminate penalties on teachers and other public workers who have multiple retirement benefits.
Bernie Sanders: The independent senator from Vermont has long supported the expansion of Social Security. Sanders’ plan calls for applying the payroll tax to all income over $250,000, which he says will fully fund the Social Security trust fund for 52 years; boost benefits by $1,300 annually for seniors with incomes below $16,000 a year; increase the minimum benefit; and boost cost-of-living adjustments by using a more favorable inflation price index.
Elizabeth Warren: Sanders’ main rival on the left also supports the expansion of Social Security. Her plan calls for a $200 monthly increase for all beneficiaries, with the roughly $150 billion cost in the first year to be paid for by higher taxes on the rich. The taxes include a 14.8% payroll tax on incomes over $250,000 and a 14.8% tax on investment income for the top 2% of earners. The taxes would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years and extend the life of the Social Security trust fund by nearly 20 years, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. Warren also wants to use a more generous inflation measure for annual cost-of-living adjustments.
Amy Klobuchar: The Midwestern centrist wants to apply the payroll tax to incomes over $250,000 to shore up the Social Security trust fund. Klobuchar has also proposed new retirement savings accounts for workers, to be funded by a 50-cents-per-hour tax paid by employers.
Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg has proposed raising the current payroll income cap from the current $137,700 to $250,000. The former mayor has also called for raising benefit levels and counting hours spent caring for family members as employment. Beyond Social Security, Buttigieg has proposed new types of accounts to help workers build up their own retirement savings.
Andrew Yang: The tech entrepreneur’s signature “freedom dividend” would pay all Americans $1,000 a month, and for those over 65 the payments would come on top of existing Social Security payments – “making it the largest increase seniors will receive in history,” Yang said. The cost of the program would be covered by a new value-added tax of 10%.
Tom Steyer: The former hedge fund manager wants to replace the Social Security system with a Personal Security Account System in which workers put 10% of their income into a global investment fund run at no cost by a computer. The government would pay the contributions “on behalf of the poor, the disabled and the unemployed,” Steyer said last fall. Upon retirement, shares would be sold with the proceeds used to purchase government bonds. “The income and principal from these bonds would pay you and all others your age an inflation-indexed pension that is proportional to what you accumulated and that continues until you die,” Steyer said.