Wall Street’s Third Way Absurdly Wrong About Sanders’ Social Security Plan


Nancy Altman

Third Way is reaching the point of desperation in its quest to cut Social Security and protect its Wall Street, K Street lobbyist, and GOP donors from paying their fair share. As Third Way has become more and more marginalized, its public outpourings have become more and more extreme and, quite frankly, head-scratching.

In a 2011 Politico column, “Progressives: Wise Up,” Third Way’s president and vice president for policy lectured advocates for Social Security to stop fighting a Grand Bargain that would have cut Social Security’s modest benefits – cuts that are opposed by 93.8 percent of Americans.

In 2013, the duo took to the Wall Street Journal where they attacked Senator Elizabeth Warren for proposing to expand Social Security as a solution to the nation’s looming retirement income crisis. This time, they lectured not just progressives; they warned the entire Democratic Party not to “follow Sen. Warren…over the populist cliff.” Since Senator Warren was standing with the 90 percent of Democrats (and 73 percent of Republicans) who want to increase Social Security benefits, it was no surprise that Third Way admitted that they represented, “no people,” beholden only to their wealthy paymasters.

Now, as Senator Bernie Sanders is running strong for the Democratic nomination for president on a platform that includes the incredibly sound and popular idea of expanding Social Security, Third Way is at it again. In a new report, “How the Sanders Social Security Plan is Not Progressive,” Third Way is warning the electorate that Sanders is coddling the rich. (In the report’s words, the Sanders plan is “substantially tilted toward the wealthy.”)

Sanders, who daily attacks the “billionaire class,” is proposing to benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us? Sound preposterous? That is because it is. Let’s examine the facts.

In recognition that the nation is facing a looming retirement income crisis, a disappearing middle class, and perilously rising upward redistribution of wealth, a growing number of policymakers are joining the vast majority of the American people in understanding that Social Security is a solution. Social Security is the most efficient, universal, secure and fair retirement income program around. It provides an essential – though too modest – foundation for America’s working families. As a byproduct it is the nation’s most effective anti-poverty program,keeping over 22 million beneficiaries – including over one million children – out of poverty and lessening the depths of poverty for millions more.

But Social Security’s benefits are woefully low by virtually any standard. Given the deterioration of the rest of the retirement system, including disappearing pension programs and risky options from Wall Street that mainly benefit the wealthy, stagnating wages, and lost home equity, the case for expanding Social Security is overwhelming. Congress has not increased Social Security benefits in many decades. Moreover, as the consequence of actions by past Congresses, they will be even lower, as a percentage of final pay, for future beneficiaries.

Understanding these facts, 43 Senators and 116 members of the House of Representatives — about 70 percent of the Democrats in Congress – are on record in favor of expanding, not cutting, Social Security. Among them is Senator Bernie Sanders. Indeed, he has introduced legislation to do just that.

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