Progressives make case for expanding—not cutting—Social Security benefits: ‘No one should retire into poverty’
Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) speaks during an event to introduce the Social Security 2100 Act uring a news conference on Capitol Hill January 30, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"Social Security's modest benefits should be expanded. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, he called it 'a cornerstone' on which to build. Yet the last time Congress enacted increases was 1972."

Progressive advocates and experts made the case for expanding Social Security during a historic House committee hearing on Thursday, providing a stark contrast to President Donald Trump's call for billions of dollars in cuts to the popular New Deal-era program in his 2020 budget proposal.

The Ways and Means hearing on Rep. John Larson's (D-Conn.) Social Security 2100 Act—which would boost benefits by hiking taxes on the rich and ensure the program's solvency through the end of the century—represents the first time a congressional committee has considered legislation to expand Social Security in nearly 50 years.

Nancy Altman, president of advocacy group Social Security Works, called the event a "critical milestone in the fight to increase, not cut, Social Security's modest benefits."

During her testimony in support of the Social Security 2100 Act on Thursday, Altman said the legislation would help solve America retirement income crisis.

To bolster her argument that expanding Social Security is both good policy and good politics, Altman pointed to survey data showing that expanding Social Security is popular across party lines.

"Social Security is intended to provide, as its name suggests, a sense of security, peace of mind," Altman said. "But that invaluable benefit has been lost because too many Americans have been convinced that Social Security won't be there for them. Passage of the Social Security 2100 Act is an important step to restoring that peace of mind."

Abigail Zapote, executive director of advocacy group Latinos for a Secure Retirement, also testified (pdf) in support of Larson's bill on Thursday, calling it an important step toward a secure retirement for seniors and future generations.

"Social Security is a vital safety net that protects American families," said Zapote. "Children are protected in the event they are orphaned, or their parents become disabled. Workers are protected if they can no longer work because of disability and parents and grandparents are protected when they become too old to continue working. Social Security is a sacred trust between generations and represents our Latino family values."

Contrary to continued right-wing fearmongering about the looming collapse of Social Security, recent analyses have found the program is in good financial shape. But, as Altman wrote for Forbes Thursday, the program's benefits "are modest by virtually any measure" and should, in fact, be increased.

"Social Security's modest benefits should be expanded, not cut," Altman wrote. "When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, he called it 'a cornerstone' on which to build. Yet the last time Congress enacted increases was 1972."

"Social Security has stood the test of time," added Altman. "Next month, we will celebrate the 84th anniversary of the system’s enactment. It is more universal, efficient, secure, and fair than its private sector counterparts are or could be."

Larson's legislation—which was introduced in January, on FDR's 137th birthday—would increase Social Security benefits for all current and future recipients, set the minimum benefit level to 25 percent greater than the federal poverty line, and improve the annual cost of living adjustment to ensure benefits are not eroded by inflation.

To finance the benefit expansion, Larson's bill would subject all earnings above $400,000 to a payroll tax.

"No one should retire into poverty," advocacy group MoveOn tweeted Thursday. "Rep. John Larson's Secure 2100 Act increases the minimum monthly Social Security benefit, ensuring seniors can retire in dignity."

Watch the full Ways and Means Committee hearing: