Hillary Clinton Hesitates On Expanding Social Security

It was a point of clear contrast with her progressive rival Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton balked when asked during Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate whether she agreed with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Social Security benefits should be expanded.

"I fully support Social Security and the most important fight we're going to have is defending it against continuing Republican efforts to privatize it," Clinton said, after hesitating.

Asked again whether she would expand Social Security benefits, Clinton conceded that she would expand benefits for some of the program's poorest beneficiaries, specifically citing widows and single women.

"I want to enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security,” Clinton said. “We have a lot of women on Social Security, particularly widowed and single women, who didn't make a lot of money during their careers and they are impoverished and they need more help from the Social Security system."

Sanders, by contrast, has introduced a bill that would expand Social Security across the board and increase its solvency by lifting the cap on earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes.

Responding to Clinton, Sanders said the reason he so strongly supports expansion is because he believes current benefits are inadequate for the vast majority of seniors.

“My view is, when you have millions of seniors in this country trying to get by -- and I don’t know how they do -- on 11, 12, 13 thousand dollars a year, you don’t cut Social Security, you expand it," Sanders said. "And the way you expand it is by lifting the cap on taxable income so that you do away with the absurdity of a millionaire paying the same amount into the system as someone making $118,000.”

“The allergy that Secretary Clinton showed toward the idea of Social Security expansion is honestly incredibly disappointing," said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the progressive group Democracy for America. "Social Security expansion is a major priority for 'Warren Wing' voters. She showed an extreme reluctance to even use the term.”

Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and MoveOn.Org are calling on candidates to speak to the concerns of the Democratic party's "Warren Wing," or supporters of progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

It is not clear what Clinton would do to improve Social Security benefits for widows and single women. But a common proposal for boosting women's benefits that many Social Security advocates favor involves counting five years or more of child or elder care toward covered employment for Social Security benefits.

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