2016 Trustees Report Confirms That Expanding Social Security Is Fully Affordable

The fact is that, as the richest nation in the world at the richest point in our history, not only can we afford the current levels of Social Security protections, we can afford to greatly expand Social Security.
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The Social Security Board of Trustees has just released its annual report to Congress. It shows that Social Security has a large and growing surplus, and its future cost is fully affordable. Indeed, a greatly expanded Social Security is fully affordable.

According to the new report, Social Security is 100 percent funded for the next eighteen years. It is 95 percent funded for the next 25 years. It is 87 percent funded for the next fifty years. And 84 percent funded for the next three-quarters of a century.

The projected shortfall over the next three-quarters of a century amounts to just 0.95 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In contrast, military spending after the 9/11 terrorist attack increased 1.1 percent of GDP virtually overnight. Spending on public education nationwide went up 2.8 percent of GDP between 1950 and 1975, when the baby boom generation showed up as school children.

The fact is that, as the richest nation in the world at the richest point in our history, not only can we afford the current levels of Social Security protections, we can afford to greatly expand Social Security. Last year, Social Security cost just 5 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) At its most expensive, at the end of the 21st century, the cost is projected to be just 6.1 percent of GDP. That is considerably less, as a percentage of GDP, than Germany, France, Japan, Austria and most other industrialized countries spend on their counterpart programs today.

That is good news for all of us. Social Security is a solution. It is also what the overwhelming majority of us want.

The nation is facing a looming retirement income crisis where most workers will be unable to retire without a drastic reduction in their standards of living. Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. Expanding Social Security is a common-sense solution to that looming crisis.

And, expanding Social Security helps everyone. Increasing retirement benefits automatically increases disability and survivor benefits, because they are derived from the same benefit formula. Those benefits will be increased for not just current workers and their families, but all future workers and their families. Expanding Social Security would help ease the financial pressure on working families. Adding new benefit protections, such as paid family leave and paid sick days, would do even more.

Virtually all politicians have expressed concern about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerous, and rapidly growing, upward redistribution of wealth.

In addition to being excellent policy, expanding Social Security also represents the will of the people. Support for Social Security expansion, and opposition to benefit reductions, cuts across ideological divides. These views are shared by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. They are held by self-identified Tea Partiers and union households. A recent Pew poll, conducted while the presidential primaries were still underway, discovered that supporters of every single candidate overwhelmingly oppose Social Security cuts. Our Social Security system is so popular that it unites Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters!

Yet while the American people are united, there is a stark divide among political leaders in Washington, DC. The Democratic Party has recognized the importance of expanding Social Security benefits. The growing movement to expand, not cut, Social Security includes the President, Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, around 95 percent of the Democratic Senators and around 80 percent of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast, no Republican policymaker has advocated expanding, not cutting, Social Security. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has declared his opposition to expansion, as has every sitting Republican senator.

In stark opposition to the Democratic Party and to voters of all political parties, the Republican Party supports cutting Social Security. All but six Republican senators have voted against protecting current workers - even those within days of retirement - from Social Security benefit cuts, including increases in Social Security's retirement age. Moreover, Republican leaders have a clear history of advocating deep cuts to Social Security or even radically transforming it.

This clear contrast between the parties indicates that Social Security will be a key issue in the 2016 general election. Democrats will run on expanding benefits, while Republican candidates will be forced to defend their party's support for cuts. Although Donald Trump has publicly declared his opposition to cuts, that declaration is highly suspect, because of his past statements that Social Security is a criminal Ponzi scheme, and proposals that its retirement age should be increased to 70, and that it should be privatized.

What the just-released Social Security Trustees Report makes clear is that whether to expand or cut Social Security is a question of values plain and simple. That leaves Republicans in Congress with a choice. They can continue to wage an ideologically-driven, irresponsible and unpopular effort to undermine Social Security, the bedrock of working families' economic security. Or they can join with Democrats in carrying out the will of the American people by expanding Social Security.

If they choose wrong, this election will provide the American people the opportunity to choose other leaders more willing to increase, not weaken, our economic security.

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