Does Hillary Clinton Support Cuts to Social Security?
Hillary Clinton explains her Social Security ideas to the Politics and Eggs Event in New Hampshire (source)
by Gaius Publius
Sure seems like it, but judge for yourself. Watch the above video starting at about 28:50 (if all is well in HTML land, I've queued it up for you). In case you haven't thought it through, raising the retirement age is a benefit cut. There's no other way to say it.
From a transcript (paragraphing and emphasis mine):
Clinton: Yes you know, I think there are three parts to what we have to do with Social Security and the first is we really do have to defend Social Security from the continuing efforts by some to privatize it, which I have been studying and opposing for a long time because the numbers just don’t work out [!]. And in the Bush administration when I was in the Senate I was one of the leaders in the fight against the Bush plan to privatize and it is something that I number one, we’ll focus on: we are not going to privatize Social Security.So she's not in favor of privatizing Social Security because the numbers don't work out. She wouldn't raising the retirement age if it hurt or punished low-wage workers, but she would consider raising it if low-wage workers could somehow be protected.
Secondly, I am concerned about those people on Social Security who are most vulnerable in terms of what their monthly payout is. That is primarily divorced, widowed, single women who either never worked themselves or worked only a little bit so they have either just their own earnings to depend on or they had a spouse who also was a low wage worker and the first and most important task I think is to make sure that we get the monthly payment for the poorest Social Security recipients up. So that would be the first thing I would look at.
Thirdly, we do have to consider ways to make sure that the funding of Social Security does maintain the system. I think we have a number of options, this would be something that I would look at, I do not favor raising the retirement age. And I don’t favor it because it might be fine for somebody like me, but the vast majority of working people who have worked hard and have had a difficult, maybe last couple of decades trying to continue to work, it would be very challenging for them.
[But] If there were a way to do it that would not penalize or punish laborers and factory workers and long distance truck drivers and people who really are ready for retirement at a much earlier age, I would consider it — but I have yet to find any recommendation that I would think would be suitable.
And I want to look at raising the cap, I think that’s something we should look at how we do it, because I don’t want it to be an extra burden on middle class families and in some parts of the country, you know, there’s a different level of income that defines middle class. So what do we skip and what level do we start at? And we have to consider that. So those are my three priorities in looking at Social Security.
And do note the language. The word you're not hearing in either the question or the answer is "expanding" Social Security. Clinton talks about "enhancing" it, and that's the word the questioner picked up.
So am I confused? Maybe not. I think she'd put the squeeze on the system so long as her changes don't hurt people defined as "middle class" or the "most vulnerable." The comment about raising the cap but not on the "middle class" means this — you pay Social Security tax on the first $118,500 of income (not capital gains, mind you, just income); then no tax on the next, say, $100,000 or $200,000 or so; then taxes start again on the rest, a plan generally called a "doughnut hole."
The "doughnut hole" in Sanders' SS tax plan is between $118,500–250,000. How big would that hole be under a Clinton plan? We don't know. Is $400,000 a "middle class income" in communities like midtown Manhattan? What are her thoughts on that?
And I'm very nervous about her interest in raising the retirement age for the wealthy. If you haven't thought it through, means-testing Social Security changes an insurance program into welfare, and you know how we treat welfare these days. Cut-cut-cut unless you're among the "deserving" — a constantly moving, shrinking target.
The Neoliberal Approach to "Strengthening" Social Security
I take her interest in protecting the vulnerable as sincere. But for the rest, does Hillary Clinton share her husband's (and Barack Obama's) interest in a so-called "grand bargain" along Simpson-Bowles lines, one that makes Social Security less of an insurance program and more of a welfare program? That's Clinton below, by the way, talking up entitlement "reform" at an annual Pete Peterson "summit."
“Our party’s problem is, we are always reluctant to give up the gains of the past to create the future,” Bill Clinton told the audience at the Pete Peterson’s fiscal summit. “Democrats are reluctant to commit to longer-term health-care savings; they don’t want to touch Social Security.” (source)
Two thoughts. One, this is something she needs to say clearly, her plans for Social Security. Two, Barack Obama said his Social Security plans clearly in 2008, then in 2009 he reverted from his 2008 populist self to his 2006 austerity-loving neoliberal self. That makes me very nervous.
(If you like, you can help Bernie Sanders here; adjust the split any way you wish at the link. Bernie Sanders has been pretty clear about actually expanding Social Security and Medicare.)