ICYMI: Senators Brian Schatz and Tom Harkin Discuss Their Plan to Expand Social Security

HONOLULU- Senators Brian Schatz and Tom Harkin (IA) penned an op-ed in the Star-Advertiser that outlines why expanding Social Security is important for middle-class families and future generations.  Just last week, Senator Schatz was joined by Hawaii seniors and State Representative Chris Lee to roll out the Harkin-Schatz bill that will enhance Social Security.  Read the full op-ed below:

Making wealthy pay more would allow Social Security to expand benefits

By U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Tom Harkin

Hawaii and Iowa are separated by nearly 4,000 miles, but people in both states share the same profound worry: Will I ever be able to save enough money to afford retirement?

Sadly, this worry is well founded. According to a new study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, the average working household has little or no retirement assets, with a median account balance of just $3,000; for near-retirement households, the median is $12,000. Some 38 million working-age households have no retirement account assets at all.

Given these shocking statistics, you'd think that leaders in Washington would be seeking ways to expand Social Security, which for so many people is their only hope for a dignified retirement.

Instead, a growing number of "serious" people in D.C. are proposing to cut Social Security benefits. Their plan is to reduce deficits on the backs of seniors, people with disabilities and others who depend on Social Security to survive.

And they ignore the fact that Social Security is financed by its own revenue stream and, by law, is not allowed to add even one dollar to the deficit.

Social Security is the sole source of income for more than a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older, and is the principal source of income for most seniors.

In Hawaii, nearly 1 in 6 citizens rely on Social Security benefits; in Iowa the number is 1 in 5. In both states, the percentage of people age 65 and older is growing rapidly.

Beware of those who claim they want to "save" Social Security by cutting it. They propose to raise the retirement age and/or reduce cost of living adjustments.

Not surprisingly, these ideas are being put forward by many of the same people who attempted to privatize Social Security less than a decade ago.

Budget deficits brought on by the Great Recession are just the latest excuse seized on by opponents of Social Security to undermine our nation's most successful and essential social program.

We have a better idea: Instead of cutting Social Security, let's take common- sense steps to expand it for generations to come. This is why we have introduced the Harkin-Schatz bill that will both increase Social Security benefits and greatly strengthen the financial stability of the program. Our bill bolsters Social Security in three ways:

» First, it changes the benefit formula to increase benefits by about $65 per month.

» Second, it changes the way annual cost of living adjustments are calculated so that they better reflect the real costs that seniors face. We cannot allow Social Security checks to fall so behind the actual cost-of-living that many seniors are forced into poverty.

» Third, it removes the wage cap — currently $113,700 — that unfairly shelters the highest earning Americans from paying into Social Security as the majority of hardworking Americans do.

According to the Social Security actuaries, our proposal would increase benefits for all current and future beneficiaries while extending the life of the Social Security Trust Fund to the year 2049.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935, our nation promised that we would no longer allow seniors to be pushed into poverty when they can no longer earn a paycheck. The current generation of Americans must keep this promise.

Social Security is not in crisis and should not be raided to reduce the deficit. With simple steps, such as those in our bill, we can expand the program and ensure greater retirement security for generations to come.