Advocates and progressive lawmakers on Sunday celebrated the 87th birthday of Social Security—one of the most popular and successful federal programs in U.S. history—and warned that its modest benefits remain under serious threat as Republicans openly signal their desire to gut the New Deal mainstay, a move that would hurl millions into poverty.
"Let's expand Social Security and scrap the cap."
For months, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has been urging the Democratic leadership to bring a Social Security expansion bill to the floor, force GOP lawmakers onto the record, and advance a key legislative priority. The CPC warned Sunday that the program is currently "under attack from Republicans" and that Social Security Disability Insurance "isn't keeping up with rising costs."
"We need to pass Social Security 2100 to protect and expand this vital service," the caucus added, referring to Rep. John Larson's (D-Conn.) bill to boost Social Security's monthly benefits—an increase that would be paid for by lifting the payroll tax cap that allows the rich to stop paying into the program early each year.
This year, millionaires stopped contributing to Social Security on February 24 thanks to the payroll tax cap.
In June, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led the introduction of a measure that would expand Social Security's average yearly benefits by $2,400 and guarantee the program is fully funded for the next seven and a half decades.
"In America today, 55% of seniors are trying to survive on less than $25,000 a year while billionaires pay the same into Social Security as someone who makes $147,000," Sanders wrote in a Twitter post marking 87 years since Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law.
"Let's end that absurdity," Sanders added of the payroll tax cap. "Let's expand Social Security and scrap the cap."
By contrast, former President Donald Trump—a likely 2024 candidate—has said he wants to "terminate" the payroll tax, a step that would kill the funding mechanism for Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security's 87th anniversary comes as Republican lawmakers and congressional hopefuls are facing backlash for suggesting the program should be placed on the chopping block, peddling well-worn lies about its financial health.
Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)—who will face progressive challenger Mandela Barnes in November—argued that Social Security and Medicare should be converted to "discretionary" programs, opening the door to cuts.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released a plan earlier this year that would sunset all federal programs—including Social Security and Medicare—every five years unless Congress explicitly votes to reauthorize them.
"That would undermine the Social Security guarantee, causing enormous insecurity for millions of beneficiaries," notes Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works. "It would offer Social Security's opponents in Congress enormous leverage to make draconian cuts even when they are not in control, thanks to the non-constitutional requirement of 60 votes in the Senate for nearly everything."
GOP congressional candidates have also voiced a willingness to target Social Security. Blake Masters, the far-right Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Arizona, said in June that "maybe we should privatize Social Security," an unpopular position with U.S. voters.
"Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it," Masters added.
One recent analysis showed that Social Security benefits kept nearly 22.5 million adults and children above the poverty line in 2020 with modest monthly payments. In June 2022, the average Social Security retirement benefit check was just over $1,623.
"Social Security was established on this day 87 years ago," Charles Booker, a progressive looking to unseat Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—a past supporter of privatization—tweeted Sunday. "Right now, my opponent wants to work with Rick Scott to take a chainsaw to it."
"I'm running for Senate to protect your benefits," Booker added, "and keep the promise made to the American people."
Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman sent a similar message on Sunday, calling Social Security "critical lifeline for PA's seniors."
"Whenever Dr. Oz or the GOP try to take away these hard-earned benefits from our seniors, I will always fight back," said Fetterman.
Progressives have also spotlighted potential threats to Social Security coming from the Biden administration. In July, the program's defenders sounded the alarm over President Joe Biden's quiet nomination of a long-time privatization advocate to serve on the Social Security Advisory Board.
"Andrew Biggs has advocated for Social Security cuts throughout his career," Social Security Works pointed out. "And now, he's been nominated to oversee Social Security. The Senate can, and must, block this terrible nomination."