Making sense of the latest Social Security legislation in Congress

Senator Bernie Sanders (left), D-Vermont, and Rep. John Larson (right), D-Conn. have each introduced legislation to protect and expand Social Security. (Sanders photo: Phil Roeder via Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/yT4bRv, Larson photo: Wikimedia Commons)

What’s to like — and what could be improved — in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ and Rep. John Larson’s plans to protect and expand Social Security? (via Helaine Olen at the Washington Post):

Sander’s plan shares a lot of similarities with the Social Security 2100 Act introduced by Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) two weeks ago. Both would increase payments to lower-income recipients. Both would also change the cost-of-living calculation to account for the fact that older Americans experience more inflation than their younger peers, courtesy of their greater need for health care.

But there are differences. Sanders’s bill would allow children of people who are disabled or have died to collect benefits till they are 22 as long as they are in school full-time. (This benefit currently cuts off at age 18.) The finances of the two bills are slightly different as well. Larson eliminates the tax cap at $400,000 in income, and doesn’t count investment earnings. At the same time, he would raise the payroll tax by a small amount on everyone. Sanders’s effort, on the other hand, doesn’t raise the payroll tax but eliminates the system’s tax cap at $250,000 and counts all earnings toward that number. “We are living at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, and much of the income [of the wealthy] comes from dividends and capital gains. If we are serious about making sure those people pay their fair share, those need to be included as well,” he told me in a Tuesday interview. This change, he says, would impact just under 2 percent of workers.

On the downside, neither Larson’s or Sanders’s effort offers a caregiver credit, something that disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely than men to take significant time out of the paid workforce to take care of everyone from children to elderly relatives — and see their ultimate Social Security tally fall as a result. When I asked Sanders about this, he told me, “I think the issue of caregivers is very important,” but added, “You can’t do everything in every bill.” An aide added that Sanders is a co-sponsor of Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-Conn.) Social Security Caregiver Credit Act.

Sanders’s office says an analysis by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary says his bill would solidify the system for about 50 years. Larson’s bill would take us to the end of the century. So why not take the opportunity to simultaneously improve lives and bulk up Social Security?

Full column: Washington Post

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