Bloomberg Spent a Decade Demanding Cuts to Social Security. His Campaign Plan Doesn’t Rule Them Out.

Image: via Flickr Creative Commons,

[The Intercept] A review of Michael Bloomberg’s many statements on Social Security over the last 10 years makes two things clear.

First, Bloomberg deeply and sincerely believes that the well-being of the United States requires cuts to Social Security benefits.

Second, Bloomberg has no idea how Social Security works. Instead, his head is filled with a hodgepodge of right-wing talking points about the program.

On Sunday, Bloomberg’s presidential campaign released his official proposal for Social Security and retirement more generally. It’s written to give the impression that if elected, Bloomberg would not cut Social Security for anyone, and in fact, would expand benefits for everyone. However, the plan leaves the door open to benefit cuts for some beneficiaries — just as Bloomberg has advocated for years.Join Our NewsletterOriginal reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you.I’m in

The former New York City mayor’s plan does include some ideas that, from the perspective of America’s middle and working class, are a big improvement. He calls for upping Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments, because there appears to be a higher rate of inflation for the goods and services needed by the elderly than by the younger population. He also advocates an increase in benefits for the poorest beneficiaries.

Interestingly, Bloomberg also proposes that the U.S. create a new “public-option retirement savings plan, with automatic employer and employee contributions.” This would essentially be a government-run 401(k) plan for all workers who don’t have access to one through their jobs — including a matching government contribution akin to those provided by many employers.

While this may sound something like President George W. Bush’s 2005 proposal for privatizing Social Security, it’s significantly superior. Under Bloomberg’s plan, the accounts would be run by the government, allowing for super-low fees that would be collected by Washington. Bush wanted the accounts to be run by Wall Street, which would have generated a gusher of high fees flowing to downtown Manhattan. (At the time, a financial blogger wrote that a former co-worker at a huge investment bank told him, “I want that dumb public money coming across my desk.”)

But the rest of Bloomberg’s plan must be read skeptically. The campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg explicitly rule out any cuts to Social Security benefits.

By contrast, Bloomberg’s proposal does not. Bloomberg’s campaign did not respond when asked whether he is taking all benefit cuts off the table.

Instead, Bloomberg uses language similar to a 2010 proposal from Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the chairs of a deficit reduction commission set up by President Barack Obama. Bloomberg vociferously supported the commission at the time.

According to Bloomberg’s proposal, “Mike will strengthen entitlement programs.” Simpson and Bowles said their mixture of minor benefit increases and significant cuts would “strengthen Social Security.” Today, Bloomberg wants to “put the system on sound financial footing.” In 2010, Simpson and Bowles proclaimed that their goal was to “ensure Social Security’s soundness.”

Like Bloomberg today, Simpson and Bowles proposed increasing Social Security benefits for the poorest beneficiaries. Unlike Bloomberg, they explicitly advocated cuts that would have reduced the benefits of those further up the income ladder. This would have reduced overall costs and made the program more like traditional welfare — an outcome that would have weakened political support for Social Security and made it vulnerable to further cuts in the future.

The lack of a straightforward disavowal of cuts from the Bloomberg campaign, combined with Bloomberg’s history, suggests that his plan shares significant genetics with Simpson-Bowles.

Continued on: The Intercept »

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