President Joe Biden campaigned on protecting Social Security and has slammed what he calls Republican efforts to gut the program through sunsetting, increasing the retirement age and reducing benefits.
While in office, Biden has positioned himself as a bulwark against the erosion of Social Security, one of the country’s most popular and successful anti-poverty programs.
But the president has nearly a half-century of history dating to at least 1975 of voting or advocating for many of the same attacks on Social Security that he now warns could come from a Republican takeover — and both his historical record and current policies will affect today’s younger generations as they age into the program.
Biden’s political opponents on both the right and left have repeatedly used two of his votes from decades ago to attack his record on Social Security.
The first is that he voted in 1983 to allow the government to tax up to 50% of Social Security benefits. According to Politifact and FactChect.org, that’s true but misleading.
The legislation — signed into law by President Ronald Reagan — enjoyed broad bipartisan support to stave off a looming insolvency crisis, and it approved the tax only for households above certain income thresholds.
The second came a decade later when the Senate voted 50-50 to raise the maximum taxable amount from 50% to 85% — Biden’s detractors have claimed that he cast the deciding vote.
While Biden did vote for the tax, Vice President Al Gore broke the party-line tie in the deadlocked Senate, and the last Democratic holdout was Nebraska’s Sen. Bob Kerrey, whose vote guaranteed the bill’s passage.
According to the media bias rating agency AllSides, FactCheck.org is “center” and Politifact “leans left.”
On Jan. 21, 2020, then-candidate Biden tweeted, “I’ve been fighting to protect — and expand — Social Security for my whole career.”
According to Forbes, which AllSides classifies as “center,” “That claim isn’t remotely true,” and “Biden has a 40-year history of being open to Social Security cuts, including raising the retirement age, reducing cost-of-living adjustments and, worst of all, means testing, which would convert Social Security from an earned social insurance benefit to welfare.”
According to The Intercept, which AllSides classifies as “left,” Biden was a leading figure in a movement by centrist Democrats in the 1980s and ’90s to tack to the right and rebrand the party as fiscally austere and budget-minded at the expense of programs like Social Security, including:
- 1984: Biden joins Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in calling for a freeze on federal spending, including Social Security COLAs, even as President Reagan fought to block cuts. The Biden-Grassley plan ultimately failed.
- 1995: Biden argues passionately to exclude Social Security from a balanced-budget amendment but votes for it anyway, even after losing his battle to exempt the program from cuts.
- 2007: Biden concedes that he is open to cutting benefits or boosting the retirement age in an interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” and doubles down on his early-career efforts to do the same.
President Joe Biden has opposed three GOP proposals that he says would weaken Social Security — raising the retirement age, means testing benefits and the so-called sunsetting of the program. But according to The Hill, which AllSides classifies as “center,” “If cutting Social Security is a scandal, then Biden did it first.”
Biden has repeatedly attacked Republican Sen. Rick Scott for proposing “sunsetting” legislation, which would require lawmakers to revisit and renew Social Security every five years.
But according to CNN, which AllSides classifies as “leans left,” Biden pioneered the concept in 1975 when he proposed freezing funding for all federal programs, including Social Security.
In 1984, he wrote in a Syracuse Law Review article, “I introduced the Senate’s first-ever free-standing sunset bill in 1975.”
The bill ultimately failed.
The Biden White House has attacked Republican efforts to raise the retirement age from 67 to 70. But as CNN points out, Biden repeatedly suggested raising the retirement age to 70 in the 1980s and indicated the same willingness in the early 2000s.
Biden has also taken umbrage with what he calls GOP efforts to means test Social Security. But he repeatedly voted to make benefits taxable, and according to The Hill, “Taxing Social Security benefits is an indirect way to means-test benefits. The more income seniors make, the more taxes they must pay on their Social Security benefits, effectively reducing the net amount they receive. So, if some Republicans have suggested a type of means test for Social Security, be assured that Joe Biden beat them to it by 40 years.”
Biden has been adamant for decades that the aforementioned votes and proposals were efforts on his part to protect the system within the confines of the political realities of the times.
Brad Banias, a former Department of Justice attorney and the founding partner of Banias Law and Pro Se Pro, which helps applicants settle delay suits with the federal government, takes him at his word.
“Biden has been a champion for Social Security throughout his political career,” Banias said. “He suggested some alterations to the Social Security system to fortify it. They weren’t the most popular moves, but they demonstrated his readiness to navigate contentious waters to safeguard the system’s durability.”
Banias, who received help from Biden’s office while advocating for a Social Security applicant during his time with the DOJ, accepts that Biden’s actions both in the past and during his current term will impact younger Americans.
“His positions and legislative history could have varying implications for millennials and coming generations,” Banias said. “Social Security has been a vital part of our social safety net, but millennials grapple with distinctive challenges that previous generations didn’t face as intensely.”
Here’s how Biden’s past votes and current proposals might affect younger Americans:
- Biden’s votes allow up to 85% of benefits to be taxed, depending on income.
- Biden’s votes raised the retirement age from 65 to 67.
- In response to an SSA report outlining a $22.4 trillion shortfall by the end of the century, Biden has proposed increasing the maximum income subject to program-funding payroll taxes from its current $160,200 to $400,000.
- He’s also proposed changing the program’s measure of inflation from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which he says is more accurately reflective of price increases that older Americans experience.
- The president has proposed increasing the primary insurance amount (PIA) by 1% annually, starting at age 78 and continuing through age 82, for a 5% aggregate increase in the PIA for aged beneficiaries.
- Biden has also proposed increasing the special minimum benefit for low-income earners to 125% of the federal poverty level.
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